It may not matter much in the coming election, but I prefer President Obama’s traditional bi-partisan approach to foreign policy. I know conservatives view him as somehow weak and apologetic overseas. This is almost a wholly domestic political view; however, which also oddly echoes in both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Obama is quite popular in all the other countries I have either visited in his presidency or follow through the overseas press. He is certainly a lot more popular and admired overseas than former President George W. Bush.
FDR faced serious overseas challenges after 1936, but in a time where domestic economic disaster dominated public policy. He could only maneuver in the background of the Japanese and German rearmaments. Today, I frankly resent any political agenda but generating an effective climate for jobs or at least not making the climate worse. So, the irrelevancy of the President’s foreign policy performance to re-election has a precedent.
US foreign policy only recovered from Vietnam after President Reagan led a bipartisan consensus to rebuild the Carter “can’t launch a helicopter assault” military. After several years of seven percent GDP defense spending the United States regained military dominance, fine tuned it in Grenada, Panama, and the First Gulf War, then for twenty years overawed every potential enemy state. Throughout the Reagan/First Bush/Clinton eras the aura of military force was broadly effective. And when force was used it was used in environments where it was also effective.
Reagan is often seen as the most belligerent modern US president before the second President Bush, but it was Reagan who avoided almost any actual combat. And when combat was ineffective, as in Beirut, he put the lives of the armed forces ahead of marketing and withdrew them. The constant call from parts of the US political spectrum for the use of American military force to solve every crisis is not traditional.
President Obama’s cautious support of proxy forces in a fight where American military force would backfire appears on the brink of some sort of success in Libya. As in Afghanistan in 2001 against the Taliban, arming and supporting a rebel force may take longer but it has two ideal attributes. It is a local victory with minimal US casualties.
When Senator McCain and others call for a more forceful America to lead from the front, I cannot understand how that is in the US best interests. One of the principal problems Secretary of Defense Gates focused upon during the final years of his appointment was the absence of NATO firepower and the will to use it. Sending in an American naval task force, flying combat air patrol, and putting a division of marines on the ground would have had two effects. First, our force would have hidden the inadequate NATO fighting force. Secondly, the Libyans would no longer have a revolution, but instead an occupation. Only an American ideologue can think a US division of troops or Marines can today deploy into the Middle East as anything other than occupiers.
Instead, President Obama returned to a Reagan era doctrine of effective foreign policy. And beyond the apparent rebel victory, this policy generated other benefits. The most important outcome of Libya is that our allies must face their own military inadequacy. A minor air war in North Africa just off the European coast has seriously depleted the militaries of Western Europe.
There was a time when Britain or France acting alone could have dominated Libyan air space, used their navies to deploy fully supplied armies, and marched into Tripoli. Only a generation ago Britain could even achieve such a victory in the far reaches of the South Atlantic. Now six months into a partial air war just offshore, they and other NATO participants are apparently out of munitions.
There are two basic fundamental questions to deploying the military. In what order you ask them makes little difference. You have to ask both. Is a vital American interest at stake and can the US military be effective on the ground? The fact that not every international problem is our problem or that our military cannot always effectively change the ground situation is the intellectual background for traditional American foreign policy.
I may be the only voter listening for the Republican nominee to address foreign policy, but if it is the activist, “we’re all Georgians”, everybody will love us if we depose the dictator and occupy _______ country in the Middle East/Asia, that may be enough for me to vote for President Obama. And for my conservative friends angry at that proclamation, take a deep breath, and listen to what I am saying. I am telling you how to get at least this Democrat to consider voting Republican for president. Couple traditional foreign policy with a pro-growth agenda for the whole country and not just the rich and you have the heart of the Reagan revolution and the Clinton economy. Why would I not vote for that Republican?