US Foreign Policy Needs Less Rambo, More Kissinger
Mitt Romney’s comparative advantage in the presidential race was supposed to be his business expertise and fearsome intellect, but his international pronouncements have channeled Rambo rather than economics pioneer Adam Smith or the foreign-affairs chessmaster Henry Kissinger. President Obama, wanting to look equally tough, has gone to the World Trade Organization with a case accusing China of subsidizing car parts. Both candidates should step back from this damaging war of wills, and recognize that American success in dealing with the rest of the world, both economically and diplomatically, depends not just on strength but on sagacity.
A display of strength is the right response when faced with an egregious dictator, like Hitler or Stalin, who eyes the map and wonders how much he can take with impunity. But those times are not these times. Against the two foreign-policy challenges that flared up in recent days — a trade dispute with China and the rioting in the Middle East — bluster and brute force provide no solutions for the United States.
Consider the trade case: China’s outsize growth may seem threatening to many in the United States. But as that growth slows, the unhappy will feel emboldened, and the incentive for the country’s leaders to rally their people around a belligerent nationalism will only grow. America must use strength and skill to limit that possibility. We must pick our battles wisely, and that should preclude starting foolish trade wars or, as Romney has urged, labeling China as a currency manipulator.