A Deficit of Strategic Vision in the Foreign Policy Debate

During last night’s presidential debate on foreign policy, I was most struck by both candidates’ inattention to the importance of employing a coherent national security strategy.

President Obama had no clear strategic vision whatsoever. His discussion of different foreign-policy challenges, it seemed to me, were rushed responses to events dictated by others. He wanted to talk more about the means — specifically, how they must be shrunk to engage in “nation-building” at home (by the way, Obama really wants to engage in state-building; the United States doesn’t need to do any more building of a nation). He wants to cut the military by many hundreds of billions of dollars, but cannot admit that this must result in a narrowing of American capabilities and goals. But simply wanting to cut the means of our foreign policy, without any clear sense of the ends, will ensure that Obama’s foreign policy continues its rushed, improvised, and episodic character.

Romney, by contrast, has more of a strategic vision, but it only revealed itself here and there. It was not just that Romney used the debate to assure voters that he was no warmonger. He used the debate to show that he sat more comfortably in the tradition of American foreign policy that has endured since the end of World War II. Romney wants the United States to play the role that it has in the world since 1945: maintaining a liberal international order, one that has spread free trade and democracy first to Europe and East Asia, and more recently to Latin America and perhaps the Middle East. This American century has produced a stunning era of stability and prosperity for more people than the world has ever known. At times Romney made clear that he wants America’s exceptional role in guaranteeing this world order to continue. And that is why military funding must be restored to its normal levels — not to wage war, but to guarantee the peace that has been so beneficial to the United States and the world.

You can read some more of my thoughts over at The Corner.