Love Classic Republican Foreign Policy? Vote for Obama
Pundits and, for that matter, the Obama campaign were right to ding Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address Tuesday for banging the table instead of putting anything substantive on it. But what could Romney do? Obama has given him almost nothing to work with. Foreign affairs won’t decide the 2012 election, but, if it did, President Obama would win walking away.
Replying to Romney’s speech, Robert Gibbs, an Obama adviser, said this: “It’s widely accepted that President Obama has an exceptionally strong record on national security issues, and I think, quite frankly, Mitt Romney is having a hard time making an argument against President Obama on these issues.” It pains me, as a supposedly crankily skeptical journalist, to agree with a partisan spin doctor, but here goes: Gibbs is right.
I never drank the Obama Kool-Aid in 2008. The then-candidate’s promise of “a new kind of politics,” I wrote in National Journal at the time, “borders on chicanery.” Replace partisanship with pragmatism? Set aside ideology to take the best solutions from both parties and ease the country out of its mess? Fat chance, I said. Well, for the record, I hereby eat half a crow. Whatever you may think of Obama’s domestic and economic records (which we can debate some other time), on foreign policy he has delivered the post-partisan, pragmatic, and generally successful policy he promised.
Two major surprises have marked his presidency, one negative, one positive. On the downside, the silver-tongued orator who inspired millions as a candidate turned out to be a mediocre communicator as president. On the upside, the greenhorn candidate who had barely any experience of, or interest in, foreign policy has proved to be an impressively adept presidential diplomat. On almost every front internationally, he has improved the country’s position since 2008.
A surprising thing about the other two surprises is they are two aspects of the same phenomenon. The reason Obama exceeds expectations on international relations is the same reason he disappoints at domestic communication: his style is technocratic, undemonstrative, and patient—not so good for galvanizing the public in a time of economic crisis, but great for diplomacy.