Conservatives’ Foreign Policy Attacks Fall Flat

February 28, 2012

A heated presidential primary schedule brings another uptick in rhetorical attacks on a non-partisan foreign policy supported by experts, the U.S. military and the public. Such attacks only underscore what the New York Times has called the candidates’ “bad analysis and worse solutions” on foreign policy as they continue to trumpet a narrative that the Washington Post said “is not borne out by the facts.” As we face moments of great delicacy in Afghanistan, Iran and the Middle East, and as war talk and uncertainty drive up oil prices and threaten economic recovery, the campaign has given us specious attacks on the credibility of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a non-existent “apology tour”; and calls for more fighting in Afghanistan, not less. The public isn’t fooled, neither are experts. They recognize the president’s success on national security: 61% support the president’s approach to keeping the country safe. On the specific question of Afghanistan, as candidates have offered no alternative strategy for achieving U.S., 53% of Americans support the current pace of withdrawal, with 22% in favor of a faster withdrawal.

Lacking depth and experience on foreign policy, conservatives trot out tired, widely discredited attacks. As the New York Times editorial board writes, in this campaign conservative candidates have offered “largely bad analysis and worse solutions, nothing that suggests real understanding or new ideas.” As NATO forces and U.S. diplomats try to tamp down a volatile and dangerous situation in Afghanistan, uncertainty in the Middle East pushes up oil prices and challenges U.S. interests, candidates have resorted to questioning the judgment of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former CENTCOM commander, and renewed their discredited claims that President Obama has embarked on an “apology tour.”

The facts are otherwise: President Bush offered a similar apology in 2008 after Korans were used for target practice in Iraq. More broadly, as the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler writes in his Fact Checker column, “The claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the facts, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context… Note to GOP speechwriters and campaign ad makers: The apology tour never happened.” [NY Times, 10/17/11. Foreign Policy, 2/23/12. Washington Post, 2/22/11]

Experts, military leaders and American people recognize the successes of principled, pragmatic foreign policy over the last three years. As NSN wrote last month, “From killing Osama bin Laden to bringing the Iraq War to an end to boosting exports and helping stabilize the economy, this is an approach founded on pragmatism and competence. In an ever-more complex world America’s interests are advanced by refocusing all the tools of national power – diplomatic, economic, military, intelligence, social and moral. What is the state of our union’s security? Strong on tackling core security challenges and urgently in need of national unity to rebuild the core sources of our strength at home – our economic might, our human resources, and our institutions and values.”

The public recognizes these successes. As Bloomberg News writes today, “Asked whether Obama ‘will keep America safe,’ 61 percent of respondents said ‘very well’ or ‘somewhat well’ describes the president, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll conducted Feb. 16-20. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.” This stands in surprising contrast to Newt Gingrich’s comments last week that the president is “the most dangerous president in modern American history” and that defeating him is “in fact, a duty of national security.” [NSN, 1/24/12. Bloomberg, 2/28/12. Newt Gingrich via ABC News, 2/20/12]

Faced with heightened concerns on Afghanistan, conservatives offer no solutions, only expensive war with no endgame. As the New York Times reports, candidates are trying to use the violence in Afghanistan to score political points. “Mr. Romney did try to seize on the violence, which followed the burning of copies of the Koran by American personnel and prompted the United States to pull its advisers out of Afghan ministries. He called it an ‘extraordinary admission of failure’ in Mr. Obama’s plan to wind down the war by 2014.” Conservatives have criticized tactics – setting a date certain, specific withdrawal numbers – without offering an alternative policy that meets both realities on the ground and the war-weariness of Americans. As the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel wrote last month, “How do you win? Well, by beating your opponent, of course. And how do you beat your opponent? By winning. That tautology was essentially former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s answer when he was asked about how, as commander in chief, he would end the war in Afghanistan without talking to the Taliban.”

The public rejects Romney’s approach and supports the current strategy. A Pew poll taken earlier this month found that, “Overall, 53% say Barack Obama is removing troops from Afghanistan at about the right pace. Just 20% say the president is withdrawing troops too quickly and 22% say he is not removing troops quickly enough.” Some conservatives are realizing that this line of attack won’t be effective. As Bloomberg writes, “Republican pollster Ed Goeas said his party’s candidates may not have much to gain by criticizing Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan.” [Mitt Romney via CNN, 2/1/12. Amanda Terkel, 1/23/12. NY Times, 2/27/12. Pew, 2/15/12. Bloomberg, 2/28/12]

 

What We’re Reading

Amnesty International reports that Iran publicly executed four times as many people in 2011 as in 2010.

The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board warns that drug violence in Central America is at “alarming” levels.

Doubts surround the legitimacy of Senegal’s recent election as the government delayed the release of poll results.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for killing 16 Shiites on a bus in northern Pakistan.

In advance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next week, Israeli sources say officials won’t notify the U.S. if they decide to launch a military strike on Iran.

Standard and Poor’s downgraded Greece to a “selective default.” 

The UN’s political chief said that pirate attacks off the west coast of Africa are on the rise.

Antigovernment protesters in Yemen remain vocal on the streets in large crowds even after the exit of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement on Kosovo’s international representation, paving the way for the European Union to grant Serbia official “candidate” status.

The U.S. government will launch a new agency tasked with enforcing trade rules with China. 

Commentary of the Day

Jonathan Schanzer outlines the possible ill effects of Saudi Arabia’s decision to arm Syrian rebels.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board examines the fragile state of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

Fredrik Dahl says Iran is relying on old nuclear technology and encountering challenges in developing its nuclear program.

The Japan Times editorial board lays out its strategy for engaging North Korea.

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