Results vs. Distractions

June 28, 2011

Last week, President Obama put the Afghanistan war effort in the broader context of America’s role in the world.  This vision represents widely accepted mainstream views on national security and foreign policy and has proven effective. Meanwhile, as the 2012 presidential primary season begins, conservative candidates continue to try and one-up one another on who is either the strongest isolationist or the greatest war hawk. Today’s foreign policy speech by Tim Pawlenty further demonstrates the divide. These two extremes within the conservative movement have been rejected by the public who seek a results-oriented approach, not distractions and posturing. 

Public seeks pragmatic, results-oriented approach.  At a moment where public dissatisfaction with all parties and government institutions is high, it’s worth noting recent poll numbers on key national security issues.  As the Washington Post reported on views of Obama’s counter-terrorism approach:

“In the latest Bloomberg poll… it was his [President Obama's] stratospheric 69 percent approval on terrorism that helped his cumulative number hover near 50 percent.

“The June Washington Post/ABC News poll produced a similar result. Asked to name one thing that Obama had done ‘especially well as president’ recently, nearly three in 10 (29 percent) cited the finding/killing of Osama bin Laden.”

Additionally, a recent CBS News poll found that, “As attention turns to drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 64% of Americans think the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be decreased — something the Obama administration has scheduled to begin next month.” A recent survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs also finds strong support for other key pillars of the Obama administration’s approach: ”They [the American public] support a strong global military posture and are committed to alliances, international treaties and agreements, humanitarian interventions, and multilateral approaches to many problems. Americans also support many direct U.S. actions to address critical threats to U.S. vital interests.” In particular there is “support for multilateral actions through the United Nations.” [Washington Post, 6/24/11. CBS News, 6/8/11. Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 6/11]

Political debate provides two extreme positions – isolationism and endless war. Peter Juul of the Center for American Progress writes, “Conservative foreign policy elites are aggressively policing wayward behavior and statements from conservative elected officials and candidates that do not comport with either the neoconservative or maximalist conservative nationalist line. Given the aggressiveness of the conservative foreign policy establishment in this policing it is likely that conservatives are heading into an even bigger fight over the nature and scope of their ideological coalition’s foreign policy as the campaign season heats up.”  Last week, George Will struck at GOP standard-bearer Senator John McCain, calling him “a promiscuous interventionist.” Today Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty riposted that “What is wrong, is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world.  History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll save in a budget line item.”

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat writes, “For the first time in a decade, it seems, the Republican Party doesn’t know where it stands on foreign policy. Instead of being united around George W. Bush’s vision of democratic revolution, conservatives are increasingly divided over what lessons to draw from America’s post-9/11 interventions.” Douthat compares freshmen Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and the larger divisions in the conservative movement: “Rubio is the great neoconservative hope, the champion of a foreign policy that boldly goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy. In the Senate, he’s constantly pressed for a more hawkish line against the Mideast’s bad actors… Paul, on the other hand, has smoothed the crankish edges off his famous father’s antiwar conservatism, reframing it in the language of constitutionalism, the national interest and the budget deficit.” [Peter Juul, 6/27/11. George Will, 6/22/11. Tim Pawlenty, 6/28/11. Ross Douthat, 6/19/11]

A pragmatic vision that builds from our economic strength at home, stands by our values, and leverages the strength of partners has proven to be highly effective:

Successfully combating terrorism multiple fronts.  The Obama administration has had successes on various fronts combating the threat from terrorism, taking out bin Laden as well as 20 or 30 of the top terrorist targets in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  NSN’s Executive Director Heather Hurlburt outlined last November that: “It’s very instructive to run through the numbers. If you like killing, drone strikes have killed more than twice as many terrorists in the eighteen months of this administration than in the last four years of the Bush administration. If you’re actually the kind of person that prefers convicting terrorists, than our civilian courts in the last eighteen months have convicted more terrorists than military tribunals did, again, in the last four years of the Bush administration. If you like deterring terrorists, than you would be happy to know that jihadi chat boards are full of people complaining that Osama bin laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have gone silent because they seem to be afraid of being tracked by the drones. So, by sort of every significant measure you can come up with, Obama’s counterterrorism policy really stacks up pretty well and pretty aggressively.” [Heather Hurlburt, 11/17/11]

Withdrawing responsibly from Afghanistan. The Los Angeles Times editorial board responded to the President’s troops speech last week saying that, “In announcing the withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, President Obama trumpeted real gains against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the pullout also reflects the impatience of the American public with a war that has lasted 10 years and seems not much closer to achieving its most ambitious goals. Whichever justification you prefer, Obama made the right choice.” [LA Times, 6/24/11]

Leading America’s allies to advance U.S. interests. Bruce Jones, director of the Managing Global Order Project at Brookings, recently wrote that the Obama administration has taken a “two-track approach: fostering informal arrangements like the Nuclear Security Summit, which has translated into ongoing cooperation to protect nuclear materials; and using the UN Security Council to coordinate major power approaches to Iran and North Korea, with some important success. A similar combination of formal and informal approaches could help to solidify cooperation on terrorism and other transnational threats. For example, navel cooperation against piracy is being pursued and could be extended. The U.S. Navy patrolling alongside the Chinese, Indian, Russian, Japanese and European navies off the coast of Somalia provides a compelling case study of shared interests.” [Bruce Jones, 3/14/11]

What We’re Reading

Greek police clashed with groups of hooded youths in central Athens at the start of two days of strikes and protests against cuts demanded by international lenders as the price for more financial aid.

The international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity issued against Muammar Qaddafi and members of his family has further isolated the Libyan leader, but may also increase his determination to fight, rather than relinquish power or seek sanctuary outside the country.

The first Egyptian police officer sentenced to death for killing protesters during the January revolution remained at large as the country braced for a summer of trials.

Mario Draghi is set to take office as president of the European Central Bank in November, making him, with the Federal Reserve’s Ben S. Bernanke, one of the world’s two most powerful central bankers.

Tons of radioactive water was discovered to have leaked into the ground from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the latest in a series of leaks at the plant damaged in a March earthquake and tsunami.

The U.S. government endorsed French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to be the next head of the International Monetary Fund, sealing her appointment just hours before a meeting of the institution’s board.

Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, has sharply rebuked the UK government of David Cameron over its criticisms of China’s lack of human rights, warning that London should stop its “finger-pointing” at Beijing.

Commentary of the Day

Greg Jaffe notes that a popular criticism of Gates’ role as Secretary of Defense is that he has been more of an implementer of his bosses’ policies than a bold visionary intent on changing the military.

Andrew Bacevich writes that as Americans weary of the mission in Afghanistan, Democrats and Republicans alike are raising serious questions about the nation’s propensity for multiple, open-ended wars.

Abraham M. Denmark, Andrew S. Erickson, and Gabriel Collins contend that the first aircraft carrier of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will not be nearly as capable as its “American cousins.”

 

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