Foreign Policy Debate Substantive Analysis: Middle East

First in a series of posts looking at the substance of the final presidential debate, ostensibly about foreign policy.

Several commenters have asked me to weigh in more on the substance of Monday night’s foreign policy debate.

I didn’t do so yesterday for a variety of reasons, including a lack of sleep, a lack of time, and a sense that there’s little reader interest in getting into the weeds. Further, I don’t consider the debates to be debates at all but campaign events. Romney’s aim Monday night was not to articulate a grand vision for US foreign policy but rather to persuade undecided voters in Ohio, Virginia, and a handful of other swing states that he’s a reasonable, responsible leader who can be trusted with responsibilities of commander-in-chief.

As I noted in my quick assessment yesterday morning, I think he accomplished that objective. While I think Obama won on points and demonstrated a superior command of the issues, Romney came across as having done his homework. But, as with virtually every presidential nominee in my lifetime, he’s not a foreign policy expert and it showed.

Given the vagaries of time, I’m going to do this in sections based on the rough order of the debate transcript. The debate format was fluid and disorganized, and the candidates both shoehorned a lot of disparate topics into each section. I’m going to, for the most part, ignore the non-foreign policy or otherwise tangential issues.

The opening question boiled down to: “Governor Romney, you said this was an example of an American policy in the Middle East that is unraveling before our very eyes.”

Both candidates gave strong overviews but little indication of substantive policy change.

Romney noted that, “With the Arab Spring, came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation, and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women in public life, and in economic life in the Middle East. But instead, we’ve seen in nation after nation, a number of disturbing events.” He points to the Syria crisis, the spillover of the Libya war into Mali, the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the continuing march of Iran’s nuclear program. He congratulated Obama for killing Osama but declared, “But we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the — the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is — it’s certainly not on the run.”

So, what would President Romney do about it? He’d apparently implement “a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.” What would that be? He doesn’t say.

Obama opened by declaring, “Well, my first job as commander in chief, Bob, is to keep the American people safe. And that’s what we’ve done over the last four years.
We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11. And as a consequence, Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated.”

Then, he asserted “we’re now able to transition out of Afghanistan in a responsible way, making sure that Afghans take responsibility for their own security.” This is frankly absurd. He doubled down on an unwinnable strategy with the Surge, getting a thousand additional American troops killed for nothing. And Afghanistan is arguably in worse shape now than when he took office. The number one threat to our forces now is those Afghans who are taking responsibility for their own security. But, I’d note, Romney never called him on any of this. Indeed, Romney seems to agree with the basic thrust of our Afghanistan policy and intends to continue it.

Obama next rolled out another version of the administration’s reaction to the attack on our consulate in Benghazi that got four Americans killed. It’s still at variance with the known facts. But Romney never rejoined on this issue, having botched it in the last debate and perhaps having decided that the moment to exploit it is past.

More interestingly, he talked about the war in Libya: “I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to, without putting troops on the ground at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years. Got rid of a despot who had killed Americans and as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying America is our friend. We stand with them.”

There’s a lot to unpack there.

First, he’s completely abandoned the “lead from behind” meme that his team crafted at the beginning. We were led to believe that the administration was dragged kicking and screaming to war by our allies, particularly France and the UK, and that America was just playing a supporting role while we turned the real fighting over to “NATO.” In reality, this updated version is right: It was Obama’s team that dragged our Allies from a meaningless no-fly zone into an aggressive war to change regimes.

Second, it’s interesting that we’re now ret-conning a rationale for the war that includes Gaddafi’s crimes against America in the 1980s. Pan Am Flight 103 was downed in 1988, while I was attending the Field Artillery Officer’s Basic Course and Obama was a first year student at Harvard Law. While those old crimes make Gaddafi’s death sweeter, they certainly weren’t the reason for going to war.

Third, things in Libya aren’t going so well right now and it’s not at all clear in what sense we’re “standing” with the Libyan people; we’ve largely washed our hands of the situation. Oh, and there’s that spillover into Mali that was a direct consequence of all the arms we poured into Libya and the failure to secure inventories.

But, again, not only did Romney not offer any rejoinder to any of this, we don’t have any reason to believe his policy preferences on any of this are substantively different.

Romney then redoubled on his peaceful world spiel. “Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to — to kill them, to take them out of the picture. But my strategy is broader than that. That’s — that’s important, of course. But the key that we’re going to have to pursue is a — is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own.” How? Economic development, education, gender equality, and the rule of law. Pretty standard Western diplomatic aims for decades.

Next, Obama comes in with his first real attack and memorable zinger of the night: “Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaida; you said Russia, in the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Now, the easy answer to this is that al Qaeda simply is not in any way, shape, or form a geopolitical threat; it’s a tactical nuisance. But, of course, a presidential candidate can’t say that and Romney didn’t.

Then, Obama offers this: “You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq. But just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. And the — the challenge we have — I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy — but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq, despite that fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction.”

There’s no good way to counter this sort of thing in a debate. First, those of us who supported going into Iraq did so primarily because we were sold on the fact that Saddam had or was building WMD. Second, a presidential candidate—let alone one vying for the Republican nomination—is not very well going to say that, well, knowing what we know now, we wouldn’t have gone into Iraq. It’s true, of course. But the vast bulk of the casualties came after we ousted Saddam and determined that there was no nuclear program; they got killed trying to beat back an insurgency and create a stable, democratic government. Third, while I fully supported Obama’s decision to stick to the Bush SOFA timetable for withdrawing American troops—indeed, there were no viable alternatives in any case, given the Malaki government’s insistence we do so—it’s simply a completely different thing to say we don’t want another Iraq than saying Iraq should have ended differently. Naturally, Romney just avoided coming back to the topic at all.

Next, Obama makes a much more substantive critique: “You said that, first, we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan. Then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong, but you were also confusing in sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies. So, what — what we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map. And unfortunately, that’s the kind of opinions that you’ve offered throughout this campaign, and it is not a recipe for American strength, or keeping America safe over the long haul.”

Now, it’s possible for all of these things to be true. Indeed, when the Surge began in 2009, I simultaneously argued that the Surge was a bad idea and that we should instead begin as expeditious a drawdown as possible but that, if we were going to do the Surge, then a calendar-based exit timetable was counterproductive.

Romney’s response, though, was weak. He dabbled at addressing all of Obama’s jibes rather than hitting at the serious ones. And did poorly at it.

His opening gambit was whining, “[A]ttacking me is not an agenda. Attacking me is not talking about how we’re going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East, and take advantage of the opportunity there, and stem the tide of this violence.” Well, true. But it is how you win a political debate.

Romney then switches to Russia: “First of all, Russia I indicated is a geopolitical foe. . . and I said in the same — in the same paragraph I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin. And I’m certainly not going to say to him, I’ll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election, he’ll get more backbone.”

That’s actually a reasonably good line, except that only wonks know what he’s talking about on the “more flexibility” jib. And it was Medvedev, not Putin, who was the recipient.

Bob Schieffer’s second question, the key portion of which was “Mr. President, it’s been more than a year since you saw — you told Assad he had to go. Since then, 30,000 Syrians have died.”

Obama did a lot of hand-waving but ultimately admitted, “[W]hat we’re seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that’s why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition. But we also have to recognize that, you know, for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step, and we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping; that we’re not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region.”

After some hand-waving of his own, Romney concurred that “we don’t want to have military involvement there. We don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict. And so the right course for us, is working through our partners and with our own resources, to identify responsible parties within Syria, organize them, bring them together in a — in a form of — if not government, a form of — of — of council that can take the lead in Syria. And then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves. We do need to make sure that they don’t have arms that get into the — the wrong hands. Those arms could be used to hurt us down the road.”

A lot of observers contend this is an example of Romney’s “Etch-a-sketch,” but I’d argue that this has fundamentally been Romney’s position on Syria all along. As with Iran, his basic policy has been “What Obama’s been doing, but with, um, more backbone and toughness.”

Similarly, on Egypt, there was very little light between the candidates.

Obama defended his slow approach to backing away from Mubarak and Romney more-or-less agreed: ”

I believe, as the president indicated, and said at the time that I supported his — his action there. I felt that — I wish we’d have had a better vision of the future.

I wish that, looking back at the beginning of the president’s term and even further back than that, that we’d have recognized that there was a growing energy and passion for freedom in that part of the world, and that we would have worked more aggressively with our friend and with other friends in the region to have them make the transition towards a more representative form of government, such that it didn’t explode in the way that it did. But once it exploded, I felt the same as the president did, which is these freedom voices and the streets of Egypt, where the people who were speaking of our principles and the President Mubarak had done things which were unimaginable and the idea of him crushing his people was not something that we could possibly support.”

There’s a lot of hand-waving there but no substantive difference.

Both candidates, interestingly, used the Egypt question to diverge into domestic politics, particularly the need to grow the economy. And they continued to do so for quite some time, even after Schieffer tried to steer them back on topic.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Iraq War, Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve Metz says:

    I thought that the phrase “Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to — to kill them, to take them out of the picture. But my strategy is broader than that. That’s — that’s important, of course. But the key that we’re going to have to pursue is a — is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own” is a pretty clear expression of the Bush-Obama (and what might be the Bush-Obama-Romney) strategy.

    Of course the rub here is that most of the Muslim world HAS, in find, rejected extremism. So is the US goal 100% success? Have we failed if there are still 20 guys blowing stuff up? If there are barbarians claiming to be part of AQ in northern Mail, Yemen, or Pakistan and Afghanistan?

  2. Herb says:

    But Romney never rejoined on this issue, having botched it in the last debate and perhaps having decided that the moment to exploit it is past.

    Two things: A) Romney botched it before, during, and after the debate. B) Romney decided “the moment to exploit it” was hours after it occurred. To his enduring embarrassment.

    I suspect he did not mention it because every time he did he projected a very palpable “amateur hour” vibe that made him look small and much weaker than the current president.

  3. mike says:

    @Steve Metz: I would be happy if one of our biggest “allies”, Saudia Arabia, would stop funding Wahabbi (sp?) schools which preach extremism. Seems to me that a lot of the muslim world denounces extremism in public but not in private. Didn’t they just catch the new Egyptian president saying amen while the immam was asking that Jews/Israel be annihilated?

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Analyzing the foreign policy components of a presidential debate is like analyzing a 1st draft treatment of what eventually becomes a movie or analyzing the responses one expects to give to job interview questions that haven’t yet been asked.

    Back in ’08 candidate Obama was going to close Gitmo, immediately end the war in Iraq, end renditions, provide civilian trials for terrorist detainees, and heal America’s standing in the Arab world. Then he was elected and got mugged by reality. Now the Middle East is burning again anew.

    Candidate Bush in ’00 didn’t even know who Musharraf was. Iraq in ’00 still was being bombed in a low-level air war by Clinton. The public didn’t know al Qaeda from Altoona.

    Bill Clinton in ’92 didn’t campaign on a policy of bombing Serbia and then following that up a few years later by bombing Kosovo.

    Events overtake talking points. Reality trumps ideology. Campaign slogans quickly are consigned to the dustbins of history.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    His opening gambit was whining, “[A]ttacking me is not an agenda. Attacking me is not talking about how we’re going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East, and take advantage of the opportunity there, and stem the tide of this violence.” Well, true. But it is how you win a political debate

    .

    Yeah, I loved that bit. ‘You’re not supposed to argue with me in a debate.’ Jeez. “Whiny” is exactly the way to characterize it. Looked weaker there than he did when he just sat there letting Obama explain to him that we have ships we can land airplanes on. Of course, given the unseriousness of the ‘fewer ships than 1916’ bit, perhaps Romney didn’t know about aircraft carriers.

  6. Steve Metz says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Well, just for accuracy, Obama said he would bring the war in Iraq to a “responsible end.” He never said he was going to end it “immediately.” But your point about campaign promises not holding up is certainly on point. My concern is that if you can’t come up with a coherent and consistent policy during the campaign, what are the chances you would as president?

  7. Steve Metz says:

    @mike:

    I’ve long considered America’s relationship with KSA one of the most repulsive elements of our strategy. But I have no idea what Muslims do in private, so I wouldn’t speculate on that.

  8. Habbit says:

    James Joyner-

    But, again, not only did Romney not offer any rejoinder to any of this, we don’t have any reason to believe his policy preferences on any of this are substantively different.

    This is all you needed to say. Romney and Obama are the exact same person on this, and a number of other policies (economic and monetary.) An illusion of choice.

    Steve Metz-

    Of course the rub here is that most of the Muslim world HAS, in find, rejected extremism.

    This is the correct statement, directed from the wrong side.

    The Muslim populace has finally rejected American extremism parading around their world.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    The assumption that both President Obama and Gov. Romney appear to be making is that “the bad guys” are relatively small and reasonably fixed in number. I see no reason to believe such a thing. Developing a “kill list” and pursuing them with drones or assassins in the hopes of eliminating a terrorist threat is a bit like assassinating the U. S. president in the belief that it would end the U. S. government. It wouldn’t.

    The president would be succeeded by the vice president and if you assassinated the vice president, too, he’d be succeeded by the Speaker of the House. And so on. But it would make a lot of people angry.

    Terrorism is like piracy or nuclear weapons. We should oppose the states that support it even possibly going to war with them, take reasonable precautions to prevent it or mitigate its damage, and otherwise recognize that it’s a cost of doing business. If terrorist leaders present themselves as targets we should go after them and, possibly, kill them. Making that the extent of a counter-terrorism policy is not only futile but counterproductive.

  10. Steve Metz says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I don’t think anyone suggests that we’re going to kill all the bad guys and eliminate the terrorist threat. The logic of high value targeting is that it does two things: 1) deters potential terrorists; and 2) diminishes the ability of terrorists to strike us because they have to devote so much effort to self protection and have a difficult time training and planning.

    The problem with state support is that it comes in a number of varieties. What do we do about states that indirectly or inadvertently support it through a lack of capability or a lack of will? What constitutes a reasonable degree of effort against it?

  11. Steve Metz says:

    @Habbit:

    “The Muslim populace has finally rejected American extremism parading around their world.” <——- Yet they remain perfectly willing to accept American assistance.

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    The logic of high value targeting is that it does two things: 1) deters potential terrorists; and 2) diminishes the ability of terrorists to strike us because they have to devote so much effort to self protection and have a difficult time training and planning.

    I agree that’s the logic but is it true? I don’t think that the approach reflects an understanding of asymmetrical warfare.

    The problem with state support is that it comes in a number of varieties. What do we do about states that indirectly or inadvertently support it through a lack of capability or a lack of will? What constitutes a reasonable degree of effort against it?

    How much light does it take to read by?

    Largescale piracy in the Atlantic and Caribbean ended when the states that fostered it stopped and the U. S. and British navies had the capability to mop up the pirates that remained. I think that terrorism is likely to be similar except that it will never be as completely mopped up.

  13. Septimius says:

    That’s actually a reasonably good line, except that only wonks know what he’s talking about on the “more flexibility” jib. And it was Medvedev, not Putin, who was the recipient.

    Apparently some wonks weren’t paying very close attention. Medvedev may have been the recipient of the message, but he was only the messenger since his response was, “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

  14. But, I’d note, Romney never called him on any of this. Indeed, Romney seems to agree with the basic thrust of our Afghanistan policy and intends to continue it.

    Because our actual Afghanistan policy is to sneak out the back, and both parties realize it’s important to pretend we are succeeding so that the panicing doesn’t start until the last possible momment.

  15. Habbit says:

    @Steve Metz: If I were Sunni, bent on killing every last Alawite hethen I could find, I would accept weapons and financial support from the idiot governments in the West who too would like to see al-Assad gone.

    And you know what? I’d gladly let the US dictate to me what to and what not to do too!

    For example.

    Good thing our Western leaders aren’t foolish enough to see through that lie, rig…. er, nevermind.

  16. Steve Metz says:

    @Habbit:

    I was thinking more of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Senegal, West Bank/Gaza, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan.

  17. Habbit says:

    @Steve Metz: But then I’d have to think up clever little stories for each of those countries that basically state the same truth I already said with the first one. 🙁

    Anyway, this is all besides the point. Does a prostitute generally like the man she receives money from? No. Similarly, there are quite a few people I’d love to punch in the face, but would gladly receive generous monetary bestowments from while faking like I enjoy looking at them.

  18. Steve Metz says:

    @Habbit:

    The prostitute analogy is interesting. Don’t think I would have used it myself and, instead, would have just opted for “hypocrites.”

  19. Habbit says:

    @Steve Metz: No, what is hypocritical is constantly invading and bombing countries for supporting “terrorism” or allegedly running some kind of “dark tyranny,” while chest bumping terrorist organizations who appear to have the same goals as us.

  20. Steve Metz says:

    @Habbit:

    I wasn’t a big fan of removing MEK from the list but it is true that the last armed action it undertook was in 1992. So if it’s a terrorist organization, so too is Hezbollah, Hamas, the PLO, etc.

  21. Herb says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    “I don’t think that the approach reflects an understanding of asymmetrical warfare.”

    What do you mean by this?

  22. Habbit says:

    @Steve Metz: Wait a minute… al-Qaddafi needed to go because of some late ’80s something or another that occurred, after which he paid billions of dollars to the victims…… but the Mujahedeen e-Khalq is checked off, good to go because…?

    The only reason we got hostages back with attached heads is because of the Ayatollah.

    The MEK wanted to kill them.

    Remember?????? Rememembmemremrerermmemebrber?

    Let’s be honest. The Mujahedeen e-Khalq hates the Ayatollah more than they hate us, and doesn’t see handing over details about Iran’s nuclear plans and capabilities to the US as the ultimate hindrance to their goal (of overthrowing the Imamahs.) Thus… voila, thank you for your help, MEK, as promised, we’ve removed you from our sh**list.

    As for their “last armed action,” do you follow the US government policy of ‘terrorism is only terrorism when it’s against the West’? Enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that good stuff.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    First, those of us who supported going into Iraq did so primarily because we were sold on the fact that Saddam had or was building WMD.

    Just have to point out that it most indisputably was not a fact, it was a fantasy dreamed up by the hive mind that was the Bush Admin.

    Now back to the article….

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    After the election, he’ll get more backbone.”

    Romney has a backbone? Or does he just think they can replace it after he has won the election? I’m confused.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Herb:

    “I don’t think that the approach reflects an understanding of asymmetrical warfare.”

    What do you mean by this?

    For starters Herb, every time we kill a terrorist, it seems we create half a dozen more.

    For the record, I am not against the use of drones for attacking our “enemies”. Drone warfare is a tactic, and like all tactics it can be misapplied. I wish we were a little more judicious in our use of them because right now there is considerable blowback

  26. Rafer Janders says:

    @Steve Metz:

    Don’t think I would have used it myself and, instead, would have just opted for “hypocrites.”

    It’s hypocritical to object when someone attacks, invades, and dictates to you, but to be happy when someone helps you? I’m not sure that we share the same definition of the word “hypocrisy.”

  27. Habbit says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    It’s hypocritical to object when someone attacks, invades, and dictates to you, but to be happy when someone helps you? I’m not sure that we share the same definition of the word “hypocrisy.”

    I can cosign with this… I don’t believe that the United States government should be trying to buy any country’s loyalty, but if we’re going to do it we need to stop thinking we should also be able to dictate to said country what they can or can’t do.

  28. PD Shaw says:

    @Steve Metz: “The logic of high value targeting . . .”

    Its not clear we are engaged in high value targeting. The NYTimes piece on the secret kill list described an internal debate in which we kill number 20 in al Qaeda and now his driver, who was number 21, is number 20, do we target him?

  29. MBunge says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: “right now there is considerable blowback”

    I’m not sure we can say that. Some blowback is inevitable. But it seems to me the anti-drone side is assuming or projecting a level of blowback that does not appear to be supported by the available evidence.

    Mike

  30. michael reynolds says:

    As one of the “several commenters” who asked for this — more rudely than I intended, and I apologize for that — thanks.

  31. michael reynolds says:

    Among the many amazing things said by Mr. Romney on the ME, I found the part about arresting Ahmadinejad for “incitement to genocide” the single most amazing. A man who has attacked Mr. Obama for supposedly relying on the UN to manage Syria now wants the ICC to manage our relationship with Iran, and to specifically manage it by indicting, arresting and trying the Iranian head of state.

    This had to have been a planned statement. One of the people feeding Mr. Romney a pretense of a foreign policy put that thought in his head and Mr. Romney didn’t stop and say, “WTF?” Instead he blurted it out on nationwide TV.

    Likewise, I do not believe the “path to the sea” remark was a misstatement, I think it was evidence of the cold war thinking of Mr. Romney’s foreign policy handlers. They may have meant it in a metaphorical sense, as in a reference to the holy grail of Imperial Russian policy. Or whatever. But again, a clueless candidate regurgitated it uncritically. No part of his brain said, “Hold up. Path to the sea?”

    And he went back to the 1916 Navy nonsense. Why? Because it was some trope he picked up along the way and simply regurgitated. He got his head handed to him on that, rightly so.

    After repeatedly attacking Mr. Obama on Afghanistan, Mr. Romney apparently now thinks a hard withdrawal schedule makes sense.

    The unavoidable conclusion is that Mr. Romney knows little and cares less about foreign policy — except as a means of attack on Mr. Obama.

    Again, I apply a very simple rule. If you are running for president and actually know less about the history, politics and geography of foreign policy than a high school drop-out kidlit writer, that’s a problem. If you are so lacking in on-board, personal knowledge that you will say stupid and dishonest things two weeks out from an election you might just win, then we have a problem.

    What do you suppose our opponents around the world are taking from this? That Mr. Romney is a tool in the hands of neo-cons and campaign staff and has no opinions or understanding of his own? That he is a political Gumby who can be made to strike whatever pose is most politically advantageous?

  32. swbarnes2 says:

    Romney came across as having done his homework.

    Really? He thought that Syria was Iran’s path to the sea.

    First, those of us who supported going into Iraq did so primarily because we were sold on the fact that Saddam had or was building WMD.

    Nice use of the passive voice there. “We were sold”, not “we chose to believe lies, even as many others around us did not, and explained why”.

    You would mention explicitly if those lie peddlers were or were expected to be Romney’s FP advisers, right?

  33. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:

    I agree. I think blowback is a buzz word. It sounds cool to say, it has an authoritative ring, but I don’t think there’s much there. What was the blowback for burning down Berlin and Tokyo?

    Yes, war makes people angry. And yes, some of those people may engage in terrorism. So what? So we don’t ever intervene overseas? That would be the libertarian alternative. Should we base our foreign policy on advance polling? The focus group says they’ll be really mad if you hit Al Qaeda’s number seven, but cool with you hitting number three?

    If blowback is the bug-a-boo, what was the American misdeed that caused the Taliban to allow Al Qaeda to attack the US while in safe haven in Afghanistan? The Taliban rose to power in part because we helped to drive the Soviets out of their country. A mitzvah on our part that evidently resulted in the Taliban conspiring to attack the United States. Are we looking for logic in that situation? The blowback should have come from the Soviets who instead promptly collapsed.

    History broadly does not make the case for blowback. Unfortunately history makes the case for prevailing.

  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MBunge:

    I’m not sure we can say that. Some blowback is inevitable. But it seems to me the anti-drone side is assuming or projecting a level of blowback that does not appear to be supported by the available evidence.

    Yes Mike, some blowback is inevitable. I do want to say I am not taking my cues from the anti-drone crowd but rather from what I read in the Guardian. Pakistan for instance, is a …. Very delicate situation where friends are not what they seem to be and neither are the enemies. We have to be very careful there. Instead, it feels like we are just a bull in a china shop, always looking for someone to kill, very rarely (or so it seems) asking whether we should.

    Just my opinion.

    tom

  35. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: The Admadinejad indictment thing came out of the blue to me. TPM has a pretty good roundup on the merits, which are reasonably good, as well as the feasibility, which is practically nil. If Romney mentioned it before, I missed it.

    I’m not sure what the “path to the sea” business was about, either. The Iran-Syria nexus is real and longstanding, but I’ve never heard that angle.

    That Romney isn’t all that knowledgeable about foreign policy just isn’t very unusual; indeed, it’s the care president, indeed, who’s elected with any substantial knowledge. Really, George HW Bush was the only recent new president who did, with Nixon the most recent one before that.

    From the debate at least, I think you can make the “political Gumby” case; the “tool in the hands of neo-cons” case is much harder—Romney pretty much eschewed foreign intervention at every turn.

  36. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    What was the blowback for burning down Berlin and Tokyo?

    Hmmmm… What was the blowback for Pearl Harbor? Oh yeah, the burning of Berlin and Tokyo.

    If blowback is the bug-a-boo, what was the American misdeed that caused the Taliban to allow Al Qaeda to attack the US while in safe haven in Afghanistan?

    You know full well that the reason is the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia.

    Michael, I know you can make a much better argument than that.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Let me put it this way: you would not have said the path to the sea remark. If somehow it escaped your lips you’d have heard it, stopped, reversed and said, “That came out wrong.” So would I. You are an expert, I’m just some guy, but neither of us would have said it.

    It’s like that old show, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” If you are not smarter than a kid book author slash drop-out who was in International Relations at SF State for exactly one weed-fueled semester, you probably should not be taking over the military and FP of the world’s only superpower.

    It’s not about experience, it’s about a minimum level of interest and knowledge. Mr. Obama did not display similar ignorance when he ran four years ago. Mr. McCain tried that tack and it never stuck because in point of fact, Mr. Obama knew what he was talking about, and he was more right than the very experienced McCain. On the other hand, George W. Bush was pretty clueless about FP and how did that go?

    The fact that I am more qualified to take over US foreign policy than is Mitt Romney ought to be very scary to people. Scares me.

  38. michael reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    No, I know that’s what they claim. The Japanese used to like to claim they attacked Pearl Harbor because we were squeezing their oil imports. There’s always some sort of excuse. We’ve had roughly a million wars fought over “honor,” or “tradition,” or “religion,” or “feudal rights.” There’s always an excuse. Hitler had excuses.

    The Taliban do not live in Saudi Arabia. That they decided to become outraged over something that had no direct bearing on their lives argues that they could become similarly outraged over any number of things. Say, an episode of South Park.

  39. gVOR08 says:

    Romney pretty much eschewed foreign intervention at every turn.

    No, Romney did not eschew intervention. He said he’d eschew intervention. With Romney, that may be a significant difference. Do you think Romney told Sheldon Adelson that he’d take a moderate, hands off approach to the Middle East?

  40. rudderpedals says:

    “Iran is the Soviet’s path to a permanent warm water port”. I remember this line from the 80s. I’m thinking gaffe and suspect it leaked into his train of thought during the debate.

  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    No, I know that’s what they claim. The Japanese used to like to claim they attacked Pearl Harbor because we were squeezing their oil imports. There’s always some sort of excuse. We’ve had roughly a million wars fought over “honor,” or “tradition,” or “religion,” or “feudal rights.” There’s always an excuse. Hitler had excuses.

    Yes, there are always excuses, take the invasion of Iraq for example…. Seriously, all I am stating is that there is always blowback, the only questions are “How much?” and “Is it worth it?” There does not seem (because how would I know?) to be much consideration for those questions.

    The Taliban do not live in Saudi Arabia. That they decided to become outraged over something that had no direct bearing on their lives argues that they could become similarly outraged over any number of things. Say, an episode of South Park.

    No, the Taliban did not live in Saudi Arabia. They lived in Afghanistan. Where they gave safe haven to Al Qaeda. Who did attack us. What they had in common was they were devout radical Muslims who were upset about the presence of “infidels” in the Holy Land. Which, in their eyes did directly affect their lives.

    Was this rational? As an atheist I don’t believe there is such a thing as a rational religious belief. But than rationality has nothing to do with it. They did tell us they were pissed off about it and that they would attack us for it (indeed, already had many times). What could we have done about it? I don’t know. Just exactly how important are the bases in SA?

    So what is my point? Foreign policy by blowback analysis? Hardly. Just that in the actions we take, we should consider the inevitable blowback.

    After all, if you had to take a dump and you knew you could not reach the toilet in time, would you do it in your neighbors yard without considering the blowback?

    tom 😉

  42. JohnMcC says:

    @Dave Schuler: Do you really think, Dr Schuler, that the Administration plans to kill every AQ leader on some list and then declare victory? Your point about the continuity of extremist expression of popular/cultural resentment is true but meaningless. Do we stop keeping tabs on KKK extremists because the list of leaders that we compiled years ago has gotten short?

    And I imagine that bombing the crap out of AQ does make planning and financing and coordination of terrorism (which after all was what AQ was originally all about) more of a problem.

    I’m an old leftwinger who has reservations all up and down my spine about the Predator/Hellfire plan for a war of attrition against AQ. But I remember the collapse of the WTC very well and until something better comes along….

    I’m also a combat veteran — an AirForce PJ incountry in ’66 and ’67 — and understand attrition. Did they teach Artillery Officers about that?

  43. Habbit says:

    @michael reynolds: Your fanatical mancrush with both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama is very much disturbing. You can’t go more than four or five sentences without obsessing over what Romney said or is saying, or handjobbing the current president… who, iranically (see what I did there?!), up until like the last month and six days was very vocal about wanting to go to war with Iran.

  44. David M says:

    @Habbit:

    Do you think Obama is more likely to start a war with Iran than Romney? I see Obama as much less likely to do something stupid like invade Iran or Iraq.

  45. Habbit says:

    @David M: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are the same person, so your question confuses me.

  46. David M says:

    @Habbit:

    Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are the same person

    Got it, you’re not serious at all.

  47. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Habbit

    : Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are the same person, so your question confuses me.

    You are easily confused. Here is a clue: Obama is a black man. Romney is not. If you need more clues, I can supply them.

  48. michael reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    So what is my point? Foreign policy by blowback analysis? Hardly. Just that in the actions we take, we should consider the inevitable blowback.

    I completely agree. We also need to consider the costs of taking no action.

  49. michael reynolds says:

    @Habbit:
    Show me where Mr. Obama said he wanted war with Iran.

  50. Habbit says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: No, you clearly are the one who is easily confused. All one has to do to fool you is paint the puppet different colors.

    @michael reynolds: You look old enough that you can blame your (convenient) ignorance on memory loss. I’ll accept that. Allow me to remind you, grandpa.

    In the 21st century, it is unacceptable that a member state of the United Nations would openly call for the elimination of another member state. But that is exactly what he has done. Neither Israel nor the United States has the luxury of dismissing these outrages as mere rhetoric.

    The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. And while we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

    Barack Obama, March 2007

    He also reiterated that his intention was not to contain Iran but to actively prevent it from getting nuclear weapons, signaling he would use military action if diplomacy failed.

    Obama reasons that an Iranian bomb is an unacceptable national security risk because it could trigger an arms race in the Middle East, raise the risk of proliferation and embolden “terrorists” under Iranian protection.

    Both Obama and Britain have signaled that they do not believe that the time is right for military action against Iran’s nuclear program yet, amid fierce speculation about the possibility of an Israeli strike in the next few months.

    March 2012

    “…we outta try every possible uh-avenue we can to see if we can get them to correct their *grunt* desire and-and goal of-of acquiring a nuclear weapon, but we cannot let them acquire that weapon. We are the only country in the world that can stop that. The Israelis in my opinion do not have the capability of stopping it, they can delay it. But at the end of the day, if we can’t get it done the way the administration’s working on it now which I totally agree with, then we outta take ’em out.” – Joe Biden

    *cue Hillary Clinton evil witch laugh*

    “…and then frankly there are those who are saying the best thing that could happen to us is be attacked by somebody. (She’s likely referring to a statement made by Patrick Clawson, Director of Research of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy… you know, the people who tell the puppets in Congress what to do… but of course you knew all this already, since you’re such a freaking foreign policy genius, right?) You *evil chuckle* know, just bring it on. That would unify us, it would legitimize the regime.” – Hillary Clinton

    *more blah, blah, blah*

    “That’s the reason I say if anybody’s gonna do it, we outta do it because we have the capability of doing it.” – Joe Biden

    *cue false disappointment tone*

    “And hopefully we won’t get to that point.” – Hillary Clinton

    earlier this month

    oohhhh nooeeezzz, cannttt lettt demmm kraziiii arabzzz gettt dat nukler mizzile. ownli u-s-a-p-p-r-o-v-e-d cuntriez r uhlouded 2 hav nukler stuff, u no?

    Oh wait, they’re Persian, and Israel and Saudia Arabia hate them. And they also happen to get along with Russia and China. This isn’t too hard to figure out, boys and girls.

    Also, I’m going to save both of us from you wasting our time: don’t bother dragging out some pathetic crybaby excuse that the Obama’s Secretary of State and Vice-President don’t represent his administration. plskthks

    Keep obsessively defending a man who could doesn’t know or care about your existence while he orders more little kids’ heads blown off in that region of the world you really don’t give a flying flip about.

  51. David M says:

    @Habbit:
    That’s not really on topic and you’re avoiding the only question that actually matters. “Is Barack Obama more likely to start a war with Iran than Mitt Romney?” Keep in mind Romney/Ryan are Republicans and thought the Iraq war awesome, and want to spend more money on the military.

  52. Habbit says:

    @David M: Please don’t push your narrow-minded and narrow-focused mindset on me, as it restricts my ability to think. There are more ways THAN ONE to accomplish a goal.

    I realize this.
    The Democratic Party realizes this.
    The Republican Party realizes this.

    Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney want to go to war with Iran, that is a fact, and there are often multiple routes which lead to the same destination (in every situation.)

    The end goal is the same, but there must be an illusion of choice.

    Who the **** is Barack Obama to say that Iran ‘must not’ be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons? Who the **** is the United States government to decide who gets to have them and who doesn’t?

    “Keep in mind,” it was Barack Obama who approves of a drone program that blows up women and children in Pakistan. “Keep in mind,” it was Barack Obama who gave financial, arms, and air support to terrorists in Libya. “Keep in mind,” it is the Democratic party who champions Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi as “pro-democracy,” while she denies the Rohingya people citizenship and allows violence against them.

    But all this is ok, because Barack Obama (may he be honored forever) is in charge and not ‘dem dam Repubs’, right?

  53. David M says:

    @Habbit:

    Non-responsive and juvenile. Again, the choice is Obama or Romney, and there are plenty of differences between Democrats and Republicans. Pretending otherwise is not honest, regardless of how much you dislike the candidates.

  54. Habbit says:

    @David M: Awh, did I hurt your feelings? Why don’t you address what I said, instead of crying about how mean I was to you? The Democrats are war-mongers, just like the Republicans. Stop dancing around imperialist rhetoric like ‘we gon’ giv’ dem a chanc 2 do wut we requir’, grow up and open your eyes.

  55. David M says:

    @Habbit:

    Differences exist, not acknowledging them is being deliberately obtuse. Romney (and Ryan) do not see Iraq war as a mistake and view withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as a mistake:

    These are not the words of someone [Romney] who has renounced the Iraq war as a failure or a debacle. These are the things that someone says when he wants to convey continued support for the war and to express dissatisfaction with the fact that more U.S. forces are not still present in Iraq. As far as Romney is concerned, taking three years to withdraw from Iraq is not “responsible and gradual,” which implies that he would rather that a large U.S. military presence had continued in Iraq until now.

    He [Romney] thinks voters should punish Obama because he was not able to find a way to keep more Americans in Iraq even longer. That’s not the view of someone eager to distance himself from the war. That’s the way that a pro-war dead-ender talks. So it’s not much consolation that Romney doesn’t want another Iraq war when he is on record as favoring the continuation of the most recent one. Romney hasn’t renounced the Iraq war, and based on what he has said about it during the campaign there is no reason to think that he believes the war to have been a mistake.

  56. Habbit says:

    @David M: You really have no clue, do you, dude?

  57. trent webert says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: obama is hawain