Let’s Get Geopolitical

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Let’s Get Geopolitical

For decades conservatives dominated the national security debate in U.S. politics. That era is over. Poll after poll shows public support for President Obama’s handling of national security – and public desire for pragmatic national security policies that use all sources of national power and build our economic, diplomatic and moral as well as military strength.

In response, conservatives are divided and substitute opposition for analysis and prescription. For example, Mitt Romney adamantly opposed the ratification of the New START treaty, which was supported by Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell and the United States military. Romney once again displayed his lack of depth and comfort on the issues by saying yesterday that Russia was America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” NSN Executive Director Heather Hurlburt responded yesterday that the statement “shows how uncomfortable Romney is on national security issues, needing when in doubt to reach back to those comfortable certainties of the 1980s.” Romney and his fellow candidates face questions from conservatives as well, as former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says, “I do think it’s important at some point in time that they lay out their view of America’s broad role.”

President Obama’s popularity on national security based on sound policy and delivered results. Third Way-Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research released a study last week that found, “November’s presidential election will feature something not seen in American politics in more than forty years: a Democratic candidate who enjoys some of his strongest ratings on national security. Swing voters in a new set of focus groups are generally impressed with the job President Obama is doing in keeping the country safe. Yet his success has not erased old doubts or stereotypes about his party on these issues. Obama’s strong image comes in large part from the success of the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden, along with a string of other security-related accomplishments… But while there is a gap between Obama and his party on national security, there is a mirror gap for Republicans. The record of President George W. Bush has dented their strong brand on national security and leaves real doubts about what Republicans would do if they once again controlled the White House.  These voters respond coolly to the national security messages of the 2012 Republican candidates.” [GQRR and Third Way, 3/21/12]

Romney versus the experts on Russia as our greatest foe. Yesterday in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Mitt Romney said, “Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe. They – they fight every cause for the world’s worst actors.” However, national security experts disagree:

Richard Danzig, former secretary of the navy and currently the chairman of the board for the Center for New American Security: “This conclusion, as outdated as his ideas on the economy, energy needs, and social issues, is left over from the last century.  Does Governor Romney believe that a Cold War foreign policy is the right course in the twenty-first century? Does he believe that Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than terrorism, or cyberwarfare, or a nuclear-armed and erratic North Korea?” [Richard Danzig, 3/26/12]

General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander: “Surely one lesson of the 21st Century is that America’s security in the world depends on making more friends and fewer enemies. Governor Romney’s statement sounds like a rehash of Cold War fears. Given the many challenges we face at home and abroad, the American people deserve a full and complete explanation from Governor Romney. ..The next president is going to have to take America forward, out of war, and into other challenges.  The rekindling of old antagonisms hardly seems the way to do it.” [Wesley Clark, 3/26/12]

Dr. Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and professor at Georgetown: “For a country that Mitt Romney called our top geopolitical enemy, he only addresses Russia in his foreign policy white paper with Cold War-era talking points and none of the sense of urgency that he demonstrated today. This is yet another example of Mitt Romney’s willingness to say anything to get elected, no matter how reckless it may be.” [Colin Kahl, 3/26/12]

Timothy Roemer, former Ambassador to India and 9/11 Commissioner:
“[T]he level of naiveté about foreign relations that Governor Romney displays is astounding. Worse, it is potentially dangerous for our country.” [Timothy Roemer, 3/26/12] [Mitt Romney via CNN, 3/26/12]

Conservatives themselves concerned about lack of understanding of national security and foreign policy issues.  Politico reported last week that, “[L]eading voices in the Republican Party have begun to suggest that it’s time to sharpen a foreign policy and national security message for the post-George W. Bush era. That’s easier said than done. The problem is that in 2012, President Barack Obama — helped by an unalloyed victory in the killing of Osama bin Laden — has a chance of winning the issue while typically hawkish Republicans feel the ground shifting under them. Polls suggest Americans may be increasingly skeptical of a muscular foreign policy — if they’re even interested in listening in the first place. But finding a foreign policy message that goes beyond Bush-era rhetorical touchstones may be increasingly critical to winning back the White House.”

The piece quotes former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge saying of the 2012 GOP primary, “Relevant and important [subjects such] as defense and security issues have, for the time being, taken a back seat. They’re almost viewed as second-tier issues right now… [the Republican presidential debates] probably spent more time worried about contraception than about national security… But I do think it’s important at some point in time that they lay out their view of America’s broad role in promoting our values and at least attempting to lead the international community.” [Politico, 3/21/12. Tom Ridge via Politico, 3/21/12]

What We’re Reading

The Syrian government said it accepted Kofi Annan’s plan to forge a lasting peace and end the bloodshed.

Officials from the largest party in Tunisia’s governing coalition say they will not support moves to enshrine Islamic law in the new constitution.

Top U.S. defense officials are considering the shape of an expanded American military presence in Australia.

President Barack Obama and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani vowed to rescue a troubled anti-terror alliance.

More than a dozen Afghan soldiers were arrested in Kabul after the uncovering of a plot to attack the Defense Ministry.

North Korea maintains that it will proceed with its plan to carry out a satellite launch.

Al Jazeera received a video of the shooting spree in southwest France but announced that it would not broadcast the footage.

Pope Benedict XVI urged Cuba to build an “open and renewed society” during his three day visit to the country.

Somali pirates seized a cargo ship off the Maldives, marking the first time a ship has been captured in the island nation’s waters.

Sudan bombed an oilfield in South Sudan, according to a South Sudanese official.

Commentary of the Day

Jane Harman says now is the time to tackle the intelligence community’s deficiencies.

Fareed Zakaria wants to see India play a more pivotal role on the global stage.

Ian Bremmer and David Gordon warn that while success in the war on Al Qaeda has spurred Sunni Islamists to focus away from the United States, it complicates broader U.S. foreign policy interests.

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