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By Kiron Skinner
I am supporting Governor Mitt Romney for president in no small part because of the state of the world and the role of the United States in it. While pundits will spend the next few days slicing and dicing the Romney-Obama foreign policy debate, I would like to turn attention to the wider world of U.S. foreign policy.
Senator Barack Obama assumed the presidency with high hopes about his ability to reshape U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, he campaigned on that pledge. He spoke of a "new beginning" in America’s relations with other countries, based upon "mutual interest" and "mutual respect." That declaration was, of course, an implicit rebuke of all his predecessors, who presumably failed to observe such niceties. By loudly professing America’s — and his own personal good will — President Obama believed he would begin to "eradicate years of mistrust" and move the world in directions favorable to the United States.
But that has not happened. The years which have followed have not been kind to the theory of international relations rooted in naïve idealism. The "outstretched hand" he extended to country after country was met with indifference at best, and abuse at worst. Instead of extending America’s influence, our standing and power were diminished around the world.
Look at relations with Russia. The president began this policy by making unilateral concessions to our former Cold War adversary on missile defense, undercutting some of our East European allies — notably, Poland and the Czech Republic — along the way. He signed an arms control agreement with Moscow that called for cuts in U.S. strategic forces while leaving Russia with a ceiling for the same weapons above what it possessed at the time. None of these overtures and policies accomplished what President Obama hoped. In return, Russia continued to vote against us on critical resolutions at the United Nations, while hurling contemptuous words in our direction.
And then there is China. President Obama came into office hoping for a significant improvement in relations with Beijing. He sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to China, where she helpfully explained to her hosts that henceforth the United States would not permit our differences over human rights to "interfere" with joint efforts to deal with "the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." What did this olive branch achieve? Not only has China continued its predatory economic policies involving currency manipulation, the theft of intellectual property, and cyber-piracy, but it has begun to behave far more aggressively in its own neighborhood. The Obama administration was itself forced to recognize that its policy failed when it announced the "pivot" of U.S. forces to Asia. Should the United States pivot to Asia while key parts of the Middle East are up in flames? Furthermore, what signal is being sent to China by the Obama administration’s advocacy of radical cuts in defense spending? Relabeling the pivot as the Asia "rebalance" misses the point.
Iran too offers a disturbing lesson. President Obama came into office urging a policy of "engagement" with the ayatollahs. By showing our good faith and readiness to negotiate, he aimed to sway them from their path of acquiring nuclear weapons. It was the hopes he invested in engagement that led him to one of the most shameful recent episodes in U.S. foreign policy. Thus, in 2009, when protesters took to the streets of Iran’s cities to demonstrate against their country’s stolen election, the administration remained silent. President Obama said he did not want to "meddle." In short order, the Iranian protesters were crushed. By failing to offer moral support to those seeking peaceful change in Iran, America retreated from our own principles. A chance to weaken or dislodge Iran’s vicious Islamic dictatorship was lost, perhaps for a generation. Meanwhile, Iran has accelerated its nuclear program. President Obama’s policies have failed in their central objective, and the Middle East draws closer to a nuclear capability that will spark a regional arms race, raise the specter of nuclear terrorism, and destabilize the region.
Indeed, if one looks across the map of the broader Middle East, one can see that America’s standing in the region has fallen precipitously over the past four years. It is obvious that not all of the setbacks can be laid at the president’s doorstep. But the administration has been at the mercy of events, watching from the sidelines as tens of thousands of civilians are dying in Syria even as Iran delivers weapons to its client in Damascus using Iraqi airspace. Relations with Egypt remain fraught with confusion and distrust, and Israel has mounting worries about the future of all of its neighbors, not to mention Iran. This is truly a dangerous time and the Obama administration seems sadly absent from the scene.
The attack against our consulate in Benghazi and the murder of our ambassador to Libya are an especially tragic part of this picture of chaos. The administration has spent weeks now spinning a tangled tale regarding the adequacy of the security measures it had in place and the zigzags of its post-attack response. After weeks of denying that it was a terrorist attack, the Obama administration shifted course and began to acknowledge what was obvious. The disarray here is symptomatic of the deeper ailments afflicting the president’s foreign policy.
The past four years have given voters ample time to become acquainted with President Barack Obama’s foreign policy vision. And they have given voters a significant foreign policy record to appraise. However one judges the president’s performance in the foreign policy debate in Boca Raton, he cannot escape a deeply troubling record in international affairs.
America needs a return to the foreign policy consensus of the mid-twentieth century.. That consensus allowed the country to mobilize its resources and combat the Soviet threat. The United States shaped the future then, and it can do so again. That is what our allies want from us and it is what our adversaries fear. That’s the vision of Governor Mitt Romney, which has drawn my support.
Kiron Skinner is associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University and Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute. From 2001 to 2007 she served on the Defense Policy Board, and she currently serves as an advisor to the Romney campaign. You can find more by Skinner at www.kironmemo.com.