Voice

An apology and an explanation to American voters

I have an essay in the New York Times on why it is that presidents seem to care so much about foreign policy when voters care so little.  Here's how it opens: 

I’d like to apologize to American voters. I’m one of the 5 percent. The 5 percent, that is, who vote in presidential elections based on the foreign policy views of the candidates. It might seem to the other 95 percent of you that we pull the strings. At his taped fund-raiser, for example, Mitt Romney complained that the common folk weren’t asking him enough foreign policy questions. It certainly must appear as if we control presidents once they’re elected — after their first year in office, all we read about is that they’re attending some fancy-pants summit meeting or using force somewhere exotic.

While I wish that this were true, the reality is a lot more complex. Really, those of us paying attention to foreign policy are trying to do the rest of you a favor. Maybe if some of you paid attention to the rest of the world as well, American presidents would be more cautious about expending blood and treasure abroad. That sounds crazy, but it’s true.

You'll have to read the whole thing to see why I make that argument. 

Daniel W. Drezner

An apology and a question for Mitt Romney

It appears that I owe Mitt Romney a partial apology.  In yesterday's blog post I quoted from a video procured by Mother Jones' David Corn regarding Romney's perspective on the peace process between Israel and Palestine.  The tape suggested that Romney had zero hope for peace.  As Politico's Dylan Byers notes, however, the unedited version of the tape contained the following passage right after Romney had said that an ex-Secretary of State had told him that there was a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections.  After Romney said he didn't "delve" into it, he then added the following:   

But I always keep open: the idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world. We have done that time and time and time again. It does not work. So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we’re trying to force peace on them. Then it’s worth having the discussion. So until then, it’s just wishful thinking (emphasis added).

OK, so it would appear that Romney does proffer a way of getting the two sides to talk.  My deepest apologies to Governor Romney for only printing the part of the statement that Mother Jones initially released. 

And yet... I have anothert question now.  I fear that Romney's "more resolve" strategy -- a theme he's echoed since making these comments in May -- raises more questions than answers. 

For exhibit A, let's go to the Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr, who interviewed Speaker of the Iranian Parliament (and possible future PM) Ali Larijani.   Here's what he had to say to Bozorgmehr about Mitt Romney: 

Military action against Iran would be “highly costly” for the US and threats issued by Mitt Romney as he tries to become the next American president are campaign rhetoric only and can be largely ignored, Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian parliament, has told the FT.

Mr Romney has sought to portray himself as much tougher on Iran than President Barack Obama and more sympathetic to Israel’s concerns. But Mr Larijani is unimpressed, saying the Republican candidate has the “little bit of wisdom” needed to understand the consequences of waging war on the Islamic Republic.

So it would seem that Mr. Larijani doubts Romney's strength and resolve.  This is a problem. Romney's Theory of Statecraft seems to be that all U.S. problems in the world can be soled with Extra-Strength Resolve and Strength.  Now, even one accepts this premise, the failure of adversaries to believe Romney's promises means he's gonna have to display even more Extra-Strength Resolve and Strength to convince people that he is being strong... and resolute. 

The thing is, though, even Romney's allies doubt his strength and resolve... at least, they doubt his strength and resolve with respect to his China policy

Mitt Romney is hoping his tough talk on China policy will win him votes — but few of his big business donors or fellow Republicans support what he’s saying or believe he’d follow through if elected.

And if he did, many analysts say, he’d likely spark a disastrous and counter-productive trade war that would hurt both American consumers and the workers he says he’s trying to protect....

An actual Romney policy, many corporate executives believe, would have the same kind of focus on bringing cases before the World Trade Organization and negotiating behind closed doors — the same approach of Obama and George W. Bush.

“On his first day on the job, Romney is not going to put himself on the immediate defensive with the world’s second largest economy,” said one top financial industry executive who strongly supports Romney....

Romney hopes his tougher words will make Obama look weak. But the question remains whether Romney’s tough talk is just that: talk.

“It’s kind of a head scratcher,” said the senior financial services executive who supports Romney but questions his China policy. “Is this just rhetoric or is this really the view of the candidate?”

Now, to be fair, it's not just Romney supporters who don't believe Romney's resolve on China.  A Bloomberg Global Poll of  847 "decision makers in finance, markets and economics" showed that 82% of respondents were skeptical that Romney would designate China as a currency manipulator, for example. 

So we have a presidential candidate who thinks the way to get things done is to show resolve -- but neither his allies nor his adversaries believe Romney's own resolve.  Which leads to the following question:  is it possible that there is simply no amount of Extra-Strength Resolve and Strength that will allow Romney to bend the rest of the world to his will?  And if that's the case, what's his fallback option?