By Adham Bishr
As the final presidential debate has concluded, we have learned how Romney will tackle foreign policy and global issues. How different might a Romney administration be from our current President’s? On the big issues, the Republican challenger would make nearly the same decisions as his predecessor if he took office.
The issue of Libya represented Obama’s weakest point of the night on foreign policy. Many on the Republican side of the aisle criticized Romney for missing the enormous opportunity to go after Obama during the second debate. The death of American citizens, including the Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, the intelligence failure of not understanding the attack on the embassy as planned, and the administration’s denial of increasing security at the embassy despite requests made this issue a bull’s-eye on Obama. But after the dressing down Romney received from Obama for “politicizing the issue,” Romney was reluctant to resume any sort of attack besides stating that the administration has failed.
With the issue of Iran, Romney showed a wider difference between himself and Obama, though not by much. While not discussed publicly, it is well known that Bibi Netanyahu and Obama have had a rocky, if not outright hostile, relationship. While not explicitly stated, Romney has been working hard to garner the Jewish and evangelical votes by claiming he would take a much harder stance on Iran. Pressed for details, Romney refused to give any beyond his stance on sanctions and a statement that if Israel is attacked, he would “stand by Israel.” Yet Romney refused to state anything that would imply he would put American troops on the ground or support a first strike against Iran. With growing instability in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the last thing Romney wants is to tell a war-weary and economically pained nation that he wants its young men and women in uniform to get involved in regime change.
China has now been labeled the next superpower with estimates all over the map about whether it will overtake the United States globally with the decline of American presence internationally. While this issue has been over-hyped by the media, it is still a serious one. Romney, appealing to the growing resentment of American jobs going overseas, stated that on Day One he would label China a currency manipulator, something Obama has been reluctant to do. China has let its currency appreciate slightly over the last year but is obviously holding down the value of its currency to keep exports cheap. What people fail to understand is that China needs an economically sound United States with its enormous demand for Chinese goods. For the future, Romney wouldn’t want to sabotage this profitable, symbiotic U.S.-China relationship. Despite all the tough rhetoric, it will be business as usual no matter which candidate gets elected.
Overall, the foreign policy debate gave Romney a chance to move away from the extreme positions he supposedly endorses. It is clear that he would not commit to putting troops on the ground barring an immediate threat to national security. Obama has already seized a muscular, aggressive foreign policy leaving Romney little ground to demonstrate any real difference. Moreover, the subject constantly veered into domestic economic policy because quite frankly, what is going on in the world just isn’t as important as what is going on at home. Without giving any specific differentiations at the debate, Obama has trumped Romney. Lincoln famously stated in his case for re-election, “You don’t swap horses in the middle of a river.” The President has come out on top on a foreign policy debate where his opponent would simply follow his lead. So why not keep the guy who knows how to get it done?
Photo by Austen Hufford