GOP to NATO allies: Drop Dead

I swear, I wasn’t going to watch tonight’s CNBC debate on economic policy.  I’d had a long day, I was tired, and Wednesday night at the Drezners we watch The Middle and Modern Family.  But since neither of those shows were on the air tonight, I switched over to the debate.  Oops.  While Rick Perry’s ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

I swear, I wasn't going to watch tonight's CNBC debate on economic policy.  I'd had a long day, I was tired, and Wednesday night at the Drezners we watch The Middle and Modern Family.  But since neither of those shows were on the air tonight, I switched over to the debate. 

Oops

While Rick Perry's major league gaffe will command all the headlines, I thought the most reealing answers were given to the first question of the night -- what to do about Italy?  Here are the responses of the co-frontrunners:

I swear, I wasn’t going to watch tonight’s CNBC debate on economic policy.  I’d had a long day, I was tired, and Wednesday night at the Drezners we watch The Middle and Modern Family.  But since neither of those shows were on the air tonight, I switched over to the debate. 

Oops

While Rick Perry’s major league gaffe will command all the headlines, I thought the most reealing answers were given to the first question of the night — what to do about Italy?  Here are the responses of the co-frontrunners:

HERMAN CAIN:  "There’s not a lot that the United States can directly do for Italy right now, because they have — they’re really way beyond the point of return that we — we as the United States can save them."

MITT ROMNEY:  "Well, Europe is able to take care of their own problems. We don’t want to step in and try and bail out their banks and bail out their governments. They have the capacity to deal with that themselves."

The responses by Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman were similar in tone and content. 

Now, philosophically, there’s a logic to these answers, avoiding moral hazard and all.  But recall how earlier this week conservatives were castigating Barack Obama for giving Western Europe the cold shoulder?  I believe Michael Goldfarb phrased it as a problem of Obama "abandoning allies." 

I raise this because, if the eurozone actually did need American help, the response by the GOP candidates for president would be to… abandon America’s allies.

One of Richard Nixon’s saltier lines on foreign economic policy was, "I don’t give a f**k about the lira."  I think it’s safe to say that the current GOP doesn’t give a f**k about the euro. 

The National Journal‘s Jim Tankersley frames this exactly right:

Europe’s problems should absolutely terrify anyone who cares about the American economy; its sovereign debts could infect banks around the world, potentially triggering a new wave of financial crisis, and a European recession would drag on already slow U.S. growth.

But the candidates who assembled at the CNBC debate in Detroit treated those threats as a far-away nuisance, like famine in Africa or an earthquake in Mongolia: very serious, very sad, not our problem….

It’s stunning that a Republican field that includes a former ambassador, a former House speaker and two successful former businessmen – and which, to a candidate, gushed over the virtues of markets throughout the debate – so casually brushed aside the struggles of the world’s largest collective economy (the Eurozone is bigger, economically, than the United States) and America’s largest trading partner.

You don’t have to believe America should bail out Italy, Greece or the entire Eurozone – a straw-man concept that no one in Washington is even floating, but several candidates took pains to denounce on Wednesday night – to recognize that the United States has a role to play in averting another global financial crisis. At the very least, you should expect lawmakers, and presidential candidates, to be making plans for how to respond if the European crisis escalates.

There were no such plans to be found on the debate stage on Wednesday.

Indeed. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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