Friday, July 20, 2012

Broad Praise vs. Hard Criticism on Foreign Policy

Okay, what's going on here. First, David Brooks has shared some harsh words for the foreign policy positions of Mitt Romeny, which he ascribes to Romney's opportunism and an attempt to distinguish himself from President Obama.
Mitt Romney has been wandering around the country trying to find a place to disagree with Barack Obama,” he said during a panel discussion at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s annual conference. “He’s desperately trying, and every time he does, he looks like an idiot, because he has to say something so far out there on Russia or whatever it is.
A plausible alternative explanation is that Romney, like G.W. Bush and Sarah Palin, has little interest in or knowledge of international affairs and foreign policy, and is a painfully slow study. That he accepts and is repeating positions that were drilled into him by members of his foreign policy team. That he's not attempting to distinguish himself from the President by making reckless statements on foreign policy issues that, for the most part, the nation at large isn't following. This is one of the few areas where we don't have a track record of contradictions to point to, and it seems quite possible that Romney means what he says.

Brooks is predictably more circumspect about Romney in his print column, but he extends quite a few compliments to President Obama. Obama pays attention to details, shifts his policies when and as necessary, "has shown a good ability to combine a realist, power-politics mind-set with a warm appreciation of democracy and human rights", "has also shown an impressive ability to learn along the way", "has managed ambiguity well", has "dealt with uncertainty pretty well", and "has also managed the tension between multilateral and unilateral action".

Daniel Larison takes issue with some of the actions that Brooks views as successes, as well as to some of Brooks' criticisms, and also notes that Brooks omits mention of Russia and Syria. For reasons Larison has long pointed out, Russia could be a "case in point" for Brooks' thesis, with Obama implementing a thoughtful, effective policy and Romney spouting nonsense. But on the whole Brooks is commenting more on a thought process than on policy.

Oddly, Brooks doesn't seem to realize that the President approaches domestic issues in the same manner. I guess there's also a possibility that Brooks does see the similarity, but favors domestic policy changes that aren't likely to be brought about through Obama's conservatism - his preference to make changes within the system, observe, test, modify, over more radical solutions supported by political factions on either side.

I'll give Brooks some credit for complimenting a President he hopes will lose in November, but I'll temper that by pointing out that by omitting Russia from discussion, and failing to directly compare and contrast the candidates' Russia policy, Brooks does his readers no favors. It may well be to Obama's credit that foreign policy is a background issue but, as Brooks obviously knows, our nation could face huge, negative consequences if we shift from Obama's carefully thought-out policy to approaches Brooks himself deems idiotic - and unlike Brooks, I am not comfortable assuming that Mitt is needlessly engaging in demagoguery over issues nobody cares about, as opposed to articulating policy positions that he actually believes.

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