Foreign Affairs, the leading establishment international relations journal, published the first of a series of foreign policy essays by the top-rung presidential candidates, first among them Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively the presumed centrist candidates for the Dems and GOP. Without poring over minutia, there doesn’t seem to be a hair’s breadth of difference between them.
In “Renewing American Leadership,” Obama effectively refrains much of the so-called Bush Doctrine: dismissal of “outdated thinking” in service to “visionary leadership,” the United States’ divine “promise and purpose,” etc. It is not simply rhetorical. Toward “the broader Middle East,” we must use “tough-minded diplomacy” in which, for example, “we must not rule out using military force” against irritants like Iran. More worrisome is that he declares that he “will not hesitate” to “unilaterally” use force (“if necessary”), to protect undefined “vital interests” under the specter of being “imminently threatened,” whatever that may be. Our role is to fight the “evils” of the world, in the name of the “ultimate good.”
As for the other, “Rising to a New Generation of Global Challenges,” Romney is stuck with boilerplate extremism dressed up as calm, cool-headed statesmanship. There is “a new generation of challenges,” he writes, to which we can face with our “power and influence,” which “stems from [our] values and ideals.” A “bold” new struggle is needed; the U.S. “cannot remain mired in the past.” Public opinion on foreign policy matters, particularly viz. Iraq, is folded into neatly packaged contempt: “…we cannot let current polls and political dynamics drive us to repeat mistakes,” etc. All of this, of course, in the name of exporting “moral leadership” and our status as “a unique nation.”
Obama and Romney are correct in asserting that, respectively, our obsession with militarism must be pared down and that we are up to our necks in trouble. Their solutions reflect a very narrow range of policy choices that the parties find acceptable; the people are probably far ahead. There is no pretense, in any case, that you are going to find peace plans on this page, ever. It is just a bit threatening when there is little disagreement about supporting, and avidly promoting, the same sort of ideas that resulted in the mess we’re in now, and in the blood on our hands.