September 11, 2012 by Nash Riggins
As the US Presidential Election finally reaches its home stretch, Republican duo Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have chosen an intriguing new attack against Democratic incumbent Barack Obama: his foreign policy.
In an interview with NBC’s Face the Nation, presidential candidate Mitt Romney asserted that the Obama administration faces guilt over failing to cap Iran’s nuclear energy programme, and has misplaced trust in the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, made a similar attack on President Obama’s understanding of foreign policy via the claim that his experience of the latter is far greater than was President Obama’s in 2008.
“I’ve voted to send men and women to war,” Ryan said when asked to elaborate. “I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve met with our troops to get their perspectives. I’ve been to the funerals, I’ve talked to the widows, I’ve talked to the wives, the moms and the dads. That’s something. That matters.”
It’s hard to say whether or not crashing a series of funerals dictates an all-encompassing foreign policy agenda; however, it cannot be ignored that President Obama did indeed have quite little experience by way of foreign policy prior to his election in 2008.
Indeed, his administration has made several bold – and not-so-bold – foreign policy decisions since coming into power in 2009. Democrats and Republicans alike have hailed Mr Obama’s decision to withdrawal troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his administration’s handling of the fiasco surrounding Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng; however, the remainder of President Obama’s foreign policy decisions have undoubtedly been the subject of strict divide.
Even in relatively well-handled matters such as America’s short-lived military intervention in the Libyan uprising of 2011, Republican candidate Mitt Romney attacked President Obama for seeking to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi – later conceding that “the world is a better place without him.” Meanwhile, in similar matters such as the ever-escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria, both candidates have eerily changed their tune throughout the past several months.
In June 2011, Mitt Romney asserted that “it has taken President Obama far too long to speak out forcefully against Assad and his vicious crackdown in Syria.” One year on, Mr Romney instead trivially refers to the current state of affairs in Syria as “a ray of sunshine.” Meanwhile, the Obama administration has admittedly failed to respond to a crisis that has caused around 5,000 civilian deaths in the last 30 days alone – and with regards to proactivity in the name of democracy, has been upstaged even by the controversial Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
That being said, no single aspect of the foreign policy debate in which Republicans and Democrats now wage is more intriguing than the varied opinions surrounding America’s relationship with the Russian Federation.
Mr Romney foolishly reopened said case-file during his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, after asserting that Russia is America’s “number one geo-political foe.” Liberal pundits immediately mocked Romney’s claim as a representation of misguided and outdated Cold War ideology; however, this is not the first time in 2012 that Mitt Romney has reaffirmed his distrust of the Russian state – and condemned Mr Obama for cooperating with it.
In fact, the Obama administration’s controversial handling of America’s relationship with Russia was sparked at a March summit in South Korea, in which the President fell victim to a ‘hot mic’ fiasco.
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” the President muttered to then-Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev, referring to a mutual cap on missile defense systems in Europe. “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
Romney was swift to join the national rebuke of the President, criticising Mr Obama for his apparent change in tactics with regards to missile defense and nuclear weapons development. Romney asserted that the American people should be ‘very worried’ that their President seemed willing to negotiate with Russian leaders behind closed doors, and that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is “a real threat to the stability and peace of the world.”
For once, Mitt Romney is absolutely correct – since his latest rise to power, Vladimir Putin has attempted to alter Russia’s constitution in the hopes that he can be reelected indefinitely, jailed political protesters and blocked any and all attempts by the United Nations in order to intervene in Syria on the behalf of its cornered civilians. Putin is without doubt an astronomically greater threat to humanity than is the constantly vilified – yet seemingly laughable – Kim Jong-un; however, the world stage has yet to rightfully condemn Putin’s iron fist and his Soviet-reminiscent actions. On the other hand, it must be distinguished that Mr Putin is an enemy solely to the Russian people – not a foe of the United States.
In fact, Barack Obama’s handling of US-Russian relations in the past 3 years has undoubtedly been the most proactive in recent history – erasing all tension created between the two nations by the Bush administration. After striking a ‘warm tone’ at the 2009 G20 summit in London, President Obama and his Russian counterpart announced a “fresh start” with regards to the historically troubled relationship of the two nations. Since the reboot, the two powers have reached an agreement that has greatly reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons – undoubtedly taking one step further toward nuclear proliferation. Paired with the President’s refusal to rebrand the Russian people as a threat, said treaty should indeed be hailed as one of Mr Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements – yet for whatever reason, it has fallen completely off the radar.
Furthermore, if Mitt Romney’s head is indeed “stuck in a Cold War mindset”, as Vice President Joe Biden so aptly concluded last week, why would Mr Romney condemn President Obama for seeking to decrease the amount of nuclear weapons owned by America’s ‘greatest foe’? The entire point surrounding Mr Obama’s hot mic conversation with Russia’s former president was to reach a compromise in which the Russian state becomes a less substantial nuclear threat to the world – an end-game in which one would assume that Mr Romney would be elated to reach.
Meanwhile – and regardless of said revelation – when it comes to foreign policy, Mitt Romney has very few legs to stand on. In fact, aside from his trivial rhetoric, Romney’s stated foreign policy positions offer broad continuity with those of the Obama administration – which were, in turn, closely dictated by the path laid out by the Bush administration. As a result, it should be considered a great insult to the intelligence of the American people should either political party choose to claim that America’s leadership over the next four years will greatly alter the nation’s foreign policy decisions.
Furthermore, even if one were to disregard Mr Romney’s failure to differentiate his foreign policy agenda from the current administration, Romneys’ first effort as America’s overseas ambassador was an utter embarrassment. In just several days, the Republican candidate successfully offended Britain by criticising its Olympic preparations, asserted that Palestinians live in relative poverty due to their religious beliefs and had a member of staff suggest that Mr Romney better understands the British people because of his skin colour.
As a result, the next time that Mitt Romney chooses to argue that his foreign policy credentials outgun President Obama, Paul Ryan would do well to kick his running mate in the shin and steer the conversation in an utterly different direction. Indeed, regardless of how some Americans may feel about the Republican Party’s aggressive economic agenda, said policies are no doubt far easier selling points than whether or not Mitt Romney and his running mate know more about the world of international diplomacy – because the duo’s fresh string of misguided statements and generalisations suggest that they know just about as much as the next ‘Average Joe’.