Posts Tagged ‘obama foreign policy team’

Mitt Romney delivers important speech on foreign policy

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Governor Mitt Romney has delivered an important speech on his vision of U.S. foreign policy.

Pundits and Obama supporters have already criticized and rebutted the speech, revealing again that, with few exceptions, they cannot hear criticism and respond constructively to it.

See “SPEECH TEXT: Mitt Romney Delivers Foreign Policy Address to the Virginia Military Institute,” National Journal, October 8, 2012. The text of the speech can be found here.

The speech, which is well-written and at times eloquent, merits a close and direct reading.

Obama and his supporters would be well-advised to try to put down their defenses and really hear the essential criticisms contained in the speech, whether or not they agree with them.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of Obama and his foreign policy team has been that they have been unable to hear and respond to criticisms. Romney’s October 8 speech provides them with a new opportunity to do some deep thinking and self-examination.

If Obama has no more to offer in response to  Romney’s critisims than the  typical defensive statements (“you just don’t understand, these are the facts”), he will will be hurt by Romney in the forthcoming debate on foreign policy issues.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Libya—America Abdicates Global Leadership in Struggle for Democracy

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Today is a sad day for the Observer, as America abdicates its moral leadership in world affairs by adopting the role of mere spectator of the life-and-death struggle for freedom in Libya. Having boldly stated that Qaddafi has to go, President Obama has now taken to the sidelines as Moammar Qaddafi’s murderous regime commits torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in its no-holds-barred battle to retain power.

President Obama, timorous, a prisoner of his own intellectual analytics and lack of prior foreign policy experience, doesn’t take sides when it comes time to act in the struggle for freedom around the world.

It is a sad day not only for the Observer, but also for all of those around the world who believe American foreign policy should be guided by more than 19th century Realpolitik and Staatsräson (Reason of State), for all those who are attracted to the ideals embodied in the American Revolution and America’s two centuries of constitutional government under the rule of law.

For days, the administration has been signaling its unwillingness to act. First, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tilted the scales by weighing in heavily against the approval of a no-fly zone. A day of two ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed the administration’s decision not to act by stating that no action would be taken without United Nations Security Council authorization, which given the well-known Russian and Chinese opposition to any military action, amounted to dismissing the possibility of any forceful action that would stop Qaddafi. Finally, today, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, stated in Congressional testimony that Qaddafi was likely to prevail given his advantages in troops and hardware. It is difficult, to say the least, to understand the logic that could have underlain such a tone-deaf and politically maladroit statement. Perhps it was just inexperience and lack of foreign policy coordination. But it was disastrous in its impact.

Altogether, a most shameful spectacle.

History may well mark the month of March, 2011 as the decisive turning point in America’s leadership in world affairs. America has always been more than a state pursuing its self-interests. That era now seems past, at least under Democratic presidential leadership.

The world will take note. Tyrants will relax. As Qaddafi loudly proclaims, they have nothing to fear from the United States, NATO or the United Nations.

Without American leadership, the world will go adrift. The consequences are likely to be enormous and unpredictable.

Despite its cynical record of dealings with dictatorships in the past, it is now to France, that other beacon of human liberty–since the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the defeat of Fascism in 1945 (made possible only with American help), that advocates of democracy and freedom must look.

If America does not want to be a champion of liberty, at least the French, drawing on their own deep traditions, have a possibility of articulating a clear moral vision that might guide us forward toward achievement of the goals of democracy and the rule of law which so many have fought for, at such great sacrifice, for over 70 years.

One of the saddest vignettes from the last few days has been President Obama’s intellectually arrogant and factually incorrect declaration that most revolutions succeed because they come from within and do not rely on outside help. That would come as quite a surprise to George Washington and the Marquis de la Fayette.

The Trenchant Observer

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