Posts Tagged ‘2012 presidential campaign’

Obama’s and Romney’s foreign policy teams and key appointments

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Neither President Barack Obama nor Republican candidate Mitt Romney has said much about foreign policy in the 2012 presidential campaign. What they have said does not rise to the level of serious policy discussion or initiative.  “We got Bin Laden” is not a foreign policy position or initiative. 

Foreign policy is not really an issue, at least not yet, in the campaign.  Most Americans seem to have tuned out the world.  Even momentous events, such as the civil war in Syria, or Iran’s progress on the road to nuclear weapons and the potential Israeli and U.S. responses, seem to be of little interest in most of the country. 

We know very little about who Romney would appoint to be the key members of his foreign policy team. Who would he appoint to be his Secretary of State, or his Secretary of Defense, or to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency?

During the Republican National Convention, on August 29, Romney’s foreign policy was presented on PBS, the public broadcasting channel, by former U.S. senator Norm Coleman and former U.S. congressman Vin Weber, both from Minnesota. Neither had had any serious foreign policy experience outside of Congress. Neither said anything in the PBS interview that suggested a grasp of foreign policy beyond that which might be absorbed from reading briefing papers. The only name of wide recognition among those reported to be advising Romney is that of John R. Bolton, who was well-known for his controversial views during the George W. Bush administration, in which he served as Ambassador to the United Nations during a recess appointement. He has also held other important positions in the State and Justice Departments. 

On the Democratic side, Obama has said very little about what his foreign policy would be in his second term if he is reelected. Presumably, he will try to get some major nuclear arms control agreement with Russia, further limiting the number of weapons, perhaps drastically.  In the absence of other publicized initiatives, once can only assume that his policy would be pretty much like it has been for the last four years. 

Who would Obama name as Secretary of State in a second term? Would NSC Adviser Tom Donilon be sent to Foggy Bottom? Would Leon Panetta be held on as Secreaty of Defense? Would General David Petraeus remain as Director of the CIA?

Donilon is reported to be excellent at managing the mechanics and the inter-agency process at the National Security Council, and obviously has the strong confidence of the President, who has sent him on special missions this year to meet with Vladimir Putin and with Benjamin Netanyahu. He served as a senior aide to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the first Clinton administration. Both he and Christopher came from the prominent law firm of O’Melveny & Myers.  He and his wife and brother have extremely close relationships with Vice President Joseph Biden and the latter’s wife. But he has no experience actually living and serving overseas, and has been the subject of strong criticisms by other national secuirty officials in the past, including Robert Gates.

Would Leon Panetta be held on as Secreaty of Defense? Given Obama’s proclivity for sticking with existing officials, and even naming key officials from the list of those next in order of succession, he would probably keep Panetta on at Defense.

It is likely that Obama  would keep General David Petraeus at the CIA, but not certain. We know very little about the nature of their interaction since Petraeus became CIA director.

Beyond the above considerations, there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that Obama wants to be his own Secretary of State, and to manage foreign policy himself in a very hands-on manner from the White House. The problem with this approach is that the president’s attention is by definition extremely limited, and his decisions may not always be fully informed by the advice of diplomats on the ground in the various countries of the world.  Since decision making is a process, it is also signficant that the President, unlike a cabinet secretary, doesn’t have the ability to informally call one or another key adviser into his office to brainstorm or to get his or her reaction to recent developments.  For this reason, decisions directed from the White House tend to be be less nuanced, and with fewer opportunities for flexibility in their implementation.

Moreover, the President does not appear to be comfortable with those who directly challenge him on important points. His circle of trusted advisers is small.  He doesn’t seem to hear, or to take seriously into account, criticisms of his policies that come from outside his narrow circle of trusted associates.

Obama obviously needs a strong secretary of state who can vigorously represent the nation’s interests as seen from the perspective of state department officials.  

Consequently, his choice of Secretary of State for a second term will be critical, and will tell us much about the direction U.S. foreign policy would take during a second Obama term.  The choice at State, and also at Defense, involves much more than the person who is chosen.  It will also signal whether Obama is open to reconsidering those aspects of his foreign policy to date which have been least successful.

Both Romney and Obama need to start talking about foreign policy in a serious way, beyond bullet points, if they hope to gain any momentum or legitimacy from the elections for its future execution.

The Trenchant Observer

Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5)

Monday, March 5th, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.


“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Speech on the floor of the Senate, March 5, 2012. The full text of the speech is found here.

Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate for the presidency of the U.S., called today in a forceful speech for U.S. bombing of Syria to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

“What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad’s tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still contested. Homs is lost for now, but Idlib, and Hama, and Qusayr, and Deraa, and other cities in Syria could still be saved. But time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.

“The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance – including weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners.

Noting that the U.S. and many other countries appear to be hedging their bets on Syria, unsure whether Al-Assad will prevail, McCain criticized the utter passivity and lack of contingency planning in NATO and other countries, in the folllowing terms:

“The rhetoric out of NATO has been much more self-defeating. Far from making it clear to Assad that all options are on the table, key alliance leaders are going out of their way to publicly take options off the table. Last week, the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Rasmussen, said that the alliance has not even discussed the possibility of NATO action in Syria – saying, quote, ‘I don’t envision such a role for the alliance.’ The following day, the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO has done no contingency planning – none – for potential military operations in Syria.

“That is not how NATO approached Bosnia. Or Kosovo. Or Libya. Is it now the policy of NATO – or the United States, for that matter – to tell the perpetrators of mass atrocities, in Syria or elsewhere, that they can go on killing innocent civilians by the hundreds or thousands, and the greatest alliance in history will not even bother to conduct any planning about how we might stop them? Is that NATO’s policy now? Is that our policy? Because that is the practical effect of this kind of rhetoric. It gives Assad and his foreign allies a green light for greater brutality.

“Not surprisingly, many countries, especially Syria’s neighbors, are also hedging their bets on the outcome in Syria. They think Assad will go, but they are not yet prepared to put all of their chips on that bet – even less so now that Assad’s forces have broken Homs and seem to be gaining momentum. There is only one nation that can alter this dynamic, and that is us. The President must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so (emphasis added).  It is only when we have clearly and completely committed ourselves that we can expect other countries to do the same. Only then would we see what is really possible in winning international support to stop the killing in Syria .”

Obama’s debacle in Syria has entered the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama appears vulnerable on foreign policy issues. His bet that he could keep Afghanistan out of the election is looking increasingly dubious, as more and more Afghan military and police turn their guns on their U.S. and ISAF partners, and kill them. The assumptions on which the Afghan strategy are based–that we can hand over the military battle with the Taliban and other insurgent groups to the Afghan military and police, and that these will perform effectively and in a loyal manner under central government control–seems fatally flawed.

Obama, to some extent at least, has also left himself open to charges from the Republicans that through his inept diplomacy and failure to secure a status of forces agreement and other transitional arrangements with the government of Iraq, U.S. military forces were driven into a precipitous departure, leaving the future of Iraq very much in doubt, with the Shiite dominated government in Bagdad very much in danger of falling under the influence of the Shiite regime in Iran.

Meanwhile, Obama’s famous “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship has failed, spectacularly, as Moscow provides arms and ammunition, and most probably intelligence and other support, to al-Assad, enabling the continuing and wanton commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes thoughout Syria.

Unforeseen events, such as an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, could trigger events that cause the Middle East to spin out of control. It is entirely conceivable that Obama could lose the presidency in significant part because of his foreign policy failures.

The Trenchant Observer