With the two political conventions behind us, we now have a clear idea of the difference between the two parties on foreign policy: The Democrats want to talk about it, and the Republicans don't. In fact, the Democrats even want to talk about the fact that the Republicans don't want to talk about it. Did you notice that in his acceptance speech, Mitt Romney never said a word about the vets? Didn't that strike you as, well, un-American? Real Americans cherish and honor the vets. It seems that the core of Democratic foreign policy is ending wars in order to turn soldiers into vets so they can get jobs and health care back home. That, and killing Osama bin Laden. If that monster so much as tries to stage a comeback, President Obama will order him killed again. Mitt Romney wouldn't. He'd be too busy cutting government services to even notice.
That would be a fun debate to have, unless of course Israel launches an attack on Iran, in which case there would actually be something important to argue about. As it is, there will be only one presidential debate on foreign policy, and the rest will revolve around the we're-all-in-this-together v. you-had-a-chance-and-you-blew-it attack lines. The American people don't want to hear about the rest of the world. Polls find that no more than 5 percent of respondents consider "national security" or "terrorism" the most important issue; "war/peace" clocks in at 2 percent. The dead giveaway was former President Bill Clinton's 48-minute lollapalooza on Wednesday night, which included just one throwaway line on foreign policy. Clinton tends to have pretty good instincts on this stuff. It's a dismaying prospect for those of us who had hoped to spend the next two months watching the cut-and-thrust over drone warfare and the New START treaty.
As a public service, therefore, I suggest a reconceptualization of "foreign policy" in such a way as to provoke an actual debate. At the heart of the national security strategy which President Barack Obama promulgated in 2010 is the premise that a nation's capacity to project power is proportional to its underlying economic strength. It is the economy, not the military, that is the "foundation for American leadership" and "the wellspring of American power."
In his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to restore America's global competitiveness. But then, as the economic analyst Matt Miller recently put it in the Financial Times, Obama had to ignore America's creeping economic cancer in order to deal with the heart attack it was suffering when he took office. When the two sides argue over whether Americans are better off today than they were four years ago, they are debating the effectiveness of that emergency treatment. A fair answer would be that Americans are way worse off than they were before the economic crisis hit in President George W. Bush's final year, and way better off than they would have been if Obama hadn't intervened so dramatically with stimulus spending and rescue packages for banks and the car industry.
But the urgency of addressing the short-term problem not only distracted from the long-term one but exacerbated it. Obama added over $1 trillion to the budget deficit by pumping money into the economy and allowing all of the Bush tax cuts to run through the end of 2012. The combination of tax cuts, spending, and the long-term growth of entitlements has pushed the deficit to over $1 trillion; and the cost of financing the deficit, which will grow as the economic expands and interest rates rise, eats up a growing portion of the budget. The net effect is to leave less and less room for the investments Obama would like to make in education, infrastructure, basic research and the like, which, he argued in his speech Thursday night, are central to America's long-term economic prospects.