Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Obama-Romney Foreign Policy Debate

by Michael Kaplan

Compared to the first two presidential debates the third debate, the one on foreign policy, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on Monday, October 22 was something of a snooze. There were no fireworks between President Obama and Governor Romney both of whom focused on not doing any harm to themselves.

The video of the debate is posted below and here and here. You can find the transcript here and here.

Overall Romney came off quite well. He gave the impression of being a sober and thoughtful statesman, while President Obama came across as peevish and petulant. Charles Krauthammer comments that “Romney went large, Obama went very, very small, shockingly small.” Romney’s strategy in the debate was to avoid going down in the mud with Obama and appear presidential. He succeeded in that. Indeed, Romney looked more presidential than the president. I would have liked Romney to be more aggressive, especially on the Obama Administration’s cover up of the terrorist attack by Ansar al-Sharia on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Bill O’Reilly suggests that Romney did not want to appear confrontational because it would be a turn off to women voters. Perhaps that is so. Anyway, if Romney does not win the election on November 6, it will not be because of his performance in the debates.
The main point I came away with from the debate was that Romney and Obama differ more in style and optics than in substance when it comes to foreign policy. Romney would present a tougher, more Jacksonian face of America to the world, while keeping in place many of Obama’s policies—policies that Obama himself inherited from George W. Bush. This is only natural. America’s geopolitical interests have a continuity over the long term that transcends the four or eight years of any administration. Democratic and Republican presidents from Truman through Reagan pursued the Cold War strategy of containment for forty years until the Soviet Union collapsed. Robert Merry, editor of The National Interest, a leading journal of the realist school of foreign policy, observed that “the Republican candidate who presented himself to the American people on foreign-policy issues came across as measured, moderate, informed and capable of handling complex issues with nuance and balance.” On Syria, for example, Romney would not intervene directly in that nation’s bloody civil war—there will be no American boots on the ground. But he would like to provide arms and assistance to some of the rebel groups to encourage a pro-American post-Assad regime and short-circuit the growing influence of the Islamists. Romney will continue to use sanctions against Iran, though he said he would make them tougher and more effective than Obama has, and would order a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities only as a last resort. Romney also plans to carry through on Obama’s commitment to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. And of course he praised the president’s decision to send SEAL Team Six after Osama bin Laden. Romney understands that Jacksonian America will not support any further nation building in the Muslim world. The American people have spent enough blood and treasure in what has become a Sisyphean task.
Where Romney did distinguish himself from Obama was in his commitment to a Reaganesque policy of peace through strength. On how to engage with the Muslim world going forward, Romney said this:
Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to kill them, to take them out of the picture. But my strategy is broader than that. That’s important, of course. But the key that we’re going to have to pursue is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own. We don't want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan. That’s not the right course for us.
The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world. And how do we do that? A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the world reject these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment—and that of our friends—we should coordinate it to make sure that we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies.
So Romney would embrace the Arab Spring governments, including democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood governments, and promote American influence through foreign aid and investment. But Romney would make such aid conditional and use it to nudge leaders such as Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi away from Islamic supremacism and onto a path that could in time create a civil society that reconciles Islam with liberal democracy. Whether this can be done is the big unanswered question of the Arab Spring. Islamic supremacism and the advance of the Jihad may yet prevail as Andrew McCarthy and Michael J. Totten argue. But the previous “realist” policy of unconditional support for the mukhabarat (secret police) states of Hosni Mubarak and his ilk in the Arab world has reached a dead end. Indeed it was these sterile Soviet-style autocracies which suffocated the aspirations of their young people for liberty, dignity, and upward mobility that produced Al Qaeda in the first place. As former C.I.A. analyst Bruce Reidel writes, reformers in the new Arab Spring governments “are trying to build more accountable and democratic regimes that don’t repress their own people. These new governments are trying to do something the Arab world has never done before—create structures where the rule of law applies and the secret police are held accountable to elected officials.” Reidel also admits “that is a tall order, especially when terrorists are trying to create chaos.” Mitt Romney understands this and appreciates that working with the new populist Arab regimes will be more complicated than working with the old dictators. But the long-term positive transformation of repressive societies is never simple or easy.
Engagement with the Arab Spring, however, does not mean apologizing for America. Romney was at his strongest when he blasted President Obama for his apology tours in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. These apology tours projected weakness instead of strength and it only encouraged the bad actors of the world to treat America with contempt. “I think from the very beginning,” Romney said, “one of the challenges we’ve had with Iran is that they have looked at this administration and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be. I think they saw weakness where they had expected to find American strength.” Nothing is more galling to Jacksonians than the projection of weakness. And in the high stakes world of international politics projection of strength isn’t everything, it’s the only thing (h/t Vince Lombardi). Romney went on:

And then the President began what I’ve called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness. Then when there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, a Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the President was silent. I think they noticed that as well. And I think that when the President said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel, that they noticed that as well.
President Obama was visibly annoyed by Romney’s characterization of his foreign trips. But the governor stood his ground.
Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And, by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And, by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America has dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
This was Romney’s best line of the entire debate. It showed his determination to clothe American foreign policy in the unswerving Jacksonian commitment to liberty through strength. The President of the United States never apologizes for America. He trumpets American exceptionalism to the world. He keeps the Ahmadinejads of the world off balance with the hint that he will use American might to pound them into the dust if they don’t take America’s demands in diplomatic negotiations seriously. Again the purpose of a strong military is to keep the peace by not having to use it too often. As Theodore Roosevelt understood, the Big Stick of the military is best kept in reserve to back up the softer more conciliatory voice of diplomacy. Mitt Romney also understands this. While he may continue much of the Obama foreign policy in practice, by presenting it to the world in Jacksonian colors he will project the strength needed to preserve peace and advance American interests in the world.
© 2012 Michael Kaplan

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mitt Romney Channels the Spirit of Reagan at a Campaign Stop in Ohio

by Michael Kaplan

Overhead shot of Mitt Romney speaking to an energized crowd in Lebanon, Ohio, Saturday October 13.

In my previous post I said that Mitt Romney needed to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan if he wants to win this election. Well, Mitt did it! Move over Alicia Keys; you’re not the only one who’s on fire. Mitt Romney’s on fire now and it just might blaze a path for him to the White House.

The fired up Mitt Romney, burning with passion, was on display at a campaign stop in Lebanon, Ohio on Saturday October 13. Speaking before an estimated crowd of 10,700 outside the historic Golden Lamb Inn, Romney touched on many of the themes that resonate with Jacksonians. This is what Romney must keep on doing for the remainder of the campaign. This is a fine demonstration of how to rally Jacksonian America on the stump and keep it energized and focused on victory.
The video of the speech is posted below. You can also find it here, here, and here.

In the first half of the speech Romney listed the five points of his plan for getting the economy moving again. “Number one is energy. Number two is trade. Number three; I want to make sure people have the skills they need to be able to work in the jobs of today. . . . Number 4 for me is we’re going to cut federal spending. We are going to cap Federal spending and get us on track to a balanced budget,” Romney added as his final point that he would cut taxes on small businesses to encourage them to hire people. The crowd cheered as Romney denounced the crony capitalism of the Obama administration; how the $90 billion wasted on Solyndra and other “green” energy companies could have hired two million teachers. “He likes picking winners and losers, or as a friend said to me ‘no he just likes picking losers.’”  Romney also reminded the audience that the number of people on food stamps increased from 32 million to 47 million over the last four years. “That’s an increase of 15 million people, more than the population of Ohio.” The president, Romney quipped, would much rather focus on the fate of Big Bird than find ways to combat the poverty which now traps one in six Americans, and create jobs for young graduates, half of whom cannot find college-level work. “What I want to talk about is how I can help save the American family and get good jobs for the American people.” Romney repeated his pledges to repeal Obamacare, not raise taxes on middle-class Americans and small businesses, hold China to account for unfair trade practices, and restore the strength of the American military. And he also took a swipe at the teachers’ unions which is always popular with Jacksonian audiences. (Romney was careful to distinguish between teachers and the teachers’ unions.)

“His campaign is getting smaller and smaller,” Romney declared to the cheers of the more than 10,000 Ohioans gathered in Lebanon. “And our crowds keep getting bigger and bigger. There’s a crescendo of passion about changing Washington.” This is the look of political momentum, “the Big Mo” as George H. W. Bush famously said.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mitt Romney’s Moment of Truth: The 47 Percent and the Issue of Dependency

by Michael Kaplan

Mitt Romney delivering his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, August 30, 2012.

Free enterprise has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system not only because it is the only system that creates a prosperous middle class, but also because it is the only system where the individual enjoys the freedom to guide and build his or her own life. Free enterprise cannot only make us better off financially, it can make us better people. . . . Work builds self-esteem.It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women.

When one thinks of Mitt Romney, passion is not the first word that comes to mind. The Republican presidential candidate does not come across as a particularly passionate guy. He is in many ways a throwback to the 1950s era of Father Knows Best: a calm, old fashioned, reserved, straight-arrow patriarch, who keeps his feelings buttoned up inside his impeccably tailored business suit. Think of Mad Men’s Don Draper without the psychological baggage and compulsive womanizing. This emotional reserve, suitable perhaps for the CEO of Bain Capital, has not helped Governor Romney in his campaign, making it difficult for him, unlike President Obama, to form an emotional connection with the American electorate. Mitt Romney may be a competent business executive and technocrat, but he is uncool and dull, the very opposite of the ultra-hip and cool Barack Obama. Let’s face it: before his outstanding performance in the first presidential debate on October 3, Mitt Romney was a failure as a candidate; one who put audiences to sleep and was unable to articulate a coherent and compelling message. Mitt Romney is not Ronald Reagan.

Governor Romney is going to have to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan, and the spirit of Andrew Jackson too, and soon, if he wants to win this election. As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker put it, “I think you’ve gotta get off the heels and move forward. I think Americans want a fighter . . . I want to see fire in the belly.” Mitt really needs to show some passion. Can he do it? On his foreign policy trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland, in his campaign stops with Paul Ryan, in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and in the first presidential debate, Romney gave hints that underneath his phlegmatic, buttoned-up exterior burned a passionate, poetic, dare I say Jacksonian, fire in the belly and love of country.

This passion also came through at a speech he delivered at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida, on May 17; a speech which was secretly filmed and later released to the venerable progressive magazine Mother Jones, by of all people James Earl Carter IV, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. And so Mitt Romney and his campaign now face a moment of truth. It is a moment of truth in two ways: first, Romney told the truth about the economic and moral challenge facing the nation when 47 percent of its people are at risk of sinking into dependency; and second, is the Romney campaign now ready to act on that truth, to aggressively push his pro-growth oppoturnity agenda forward and do what it takes to win this election?

Mitt Romney has to stop playing small ball and go bigto use a metaphor from his beloved Boston Red Sox, he should aim to hit that ball over the Green Monster and out of Fenway Park. Mitt can do this by becoming the champion of conservativism, its happy warrior as Monica Crowley would say, asserting conservative ideas of liberty and American exceptionalism with passion and gusto. He must unrelentingly attack Barack Obama’s record in both domestic and foreign policy. He needs to show how the faltering economy and the revival of the Islamic jihadist war against the United States are the direct results of the ideological and policy failures of the Obama administration. He should paint a picture of what four more years of an Obama presidency would mean for the nation: a stagnating economy that produces fewer jobs and diminished wealth creation; an expanding and increasingly intrusive government bureaucracy; federal, state, and local governments headed toward fiscal collapse; an America that can no longer promote liberty and prosperity at home or command respect in the world. He has to make crystal clear why the twentieth-century social welfare administrative state—the blue model—cannot be sustained in the twenty-first century. And Mitt Romney needs to articulate his own pro-growth message of hope and opportunity. He must put forward a Romney alternative: specific policy proposals that are grounded in free-market capitalism and traditional American values, and make the case for how they will turn the country around and renew American exceptionalism for the twenty-first century. He started to do this in the first presidential debate. Keep it up Mitt, keep it up.

What Mitt Romney must also do is rally the Jacksonian conservative base to his cause. The former Massachusetts governor cannot defeat Barack Obama and win the White House without an energized Jacksonian America fully committed to his victory. As Judge Andrew Napolitano put it, Romney “needs to recognize that his audience for victory is not his former neighbors in Boston, but Joe Sixpack in the heartland.” This means he must engage the social and cultural issues that are so important to Jacksonian conservatives, as well as taking strong stands on foreign policy and the economy. We know for sure that Governor Romney is passionate about free enterprise. The Boca Raton speech shows that Romney is well versed in Jacksonian ideas of “producerism,” what conservatives today like to call “the makers vs. the takers.” This is important, for Jacksonians have historically defined themselves first and foremost as hard-working productive Americans, the people who make the country work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rick Santorum, Higher Education, and the Jacksonian Politics of Liberty and Respect

by Michael Kaplan

Rick Santorum speaking at the Americans for Prosperity Michigan Forum, February 25, 2012

I’m a college professor and proud to be one. I teach American history at a technical college which is part of a state university system. I believe in the value of higher education and that it should be an option for those young, and not so young, men and women who have the desire and ability to pursue it. So now I’m going to do something that might seem bold and daring: I’m going to stand up for Rick Santorum who has taken a pounding in the liberal and establishment Republican media for his controversial views of higher education. Here’s why.

First let me say that I do have some meaningful political differences with Senator Santorum, especially on social issues. He is more socially conservative than I am. I believe that women should have access to contraception, though I agree with Santorum that it should not be a government entitlement. I believe that homosexuals should have the same rights as other Americans, but that gay and lesbian relationships should receive social and legal sanction through civil unions; I’m enough of a traditionalist to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I believe in the traditional American, conservative, and Jacksonian values of hard work, self-reliance, faith, community, patriotism, personal responsibility, and American exceptionalism. Unlike Senator Santorum I believe that these values are not incompatible with sexual freedom. He does not appreciate the extent to which America’s core middle-class Jacksonian culture has been broadened, enriched and transformed in very positive and liberating ways by the Aquarian sexual revolution. That said, I’m drawn to Rick Santorum because he, more than any of the remaining candidates in this year’s presidential contest, is the strongest and most articulate champion of Jacksonian America and its idea of liberty.

The politics of conservative Jacksonian America are the politics of honor, liberty, and respect. The honor and respect due to those Americans who get up every day and do the tough and demanding jobs that make America work. The liberty of those Americans to live their lives as they choose, to be the masters of their destiny. Jacksonian politics are also identity politics: validating the heartland identity of honorable, productive, self-reliant, patriotic Americans, and validating their anger and resentment against those elites who don’t accord such Americans the respect they deserve and who are trying to limit the scope of their liberty. These are important truths about Jacksonian America that Rick Santorum clearly understands and taps into.

This helps make sense of the former Pennsylvania senator’s otherwise bizarre and confounding foot-in-the-mouth comment calling President Obama a snob for wanting all Americans to go to college. Santorum made these remarks at The Americans for Prosperity Forum in Troy, Michigan on Saturday February 25 to a very receptive audience that burst into applause as he spoke. Here is a video clip of Santorum’s comment. Here is a clip from an alternate version of the speech delivered in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Rick Santorum is a take-no-prisoners culture warrior. That is both his strength and his weakness. His Jacksonian populism is a passionate language of the heart; there are no pale pastels for Rick, only bold colors. (See Ronald Reagan, CPAC 1975.)  “He seems to imagine America’s problems can best be described as the result of a culture war between the God-fearing conservatives and the narcissistic liberals,” David Brooks has written. This has set the tone for his 2012 presidential campaign, making for a sharp contrast with Mitt Romney. Romney, sad to say, comes across as a passionless, verbally-challenged technocrat, who hasn’t the first clue about how to connect with Jacksonian America. Which is why the “inevitable” front runner, who would be a competent manager of the economy, has been unable to close the deal with the Jacksonian conservative base of the Republican Party. In fact, while the Republican Party has since the 1960s become the party of Jacksonian America, it has not done a good job responding to its concerns about a nation that has gone astray: about an economy that no longer seems to have a place for Jacksonians who work with their hands and did not go to college; about the disintegration of traditional values, families, and communities. For many Jacksonians, including Santorum, this election is not just about reviving the economy; Santorum has offered a pro-growth and pro-family Economic Freedom Agenda. It is, more importantly, about returning America to her core values of liberty, community, Judeo-Christian morality, and limited government, which they believe are under assault by President Obama’s big government overreach symbolized by the Affordable Health Care Act otherwise known as ObamaCare. Rick Santorum has said that 2012 election is about fundamental liberty; he would not be in the presidential race were it not for ObamaCare.

If you want to understand Santorum’s “what a snob” comment, you need to place it in the context of his entire speech, which is largely an exposé of Rick Santorum’s passionate belief in American exceptionalism. Here is the C-Span video of the full 26-minute speech. Santorum gave a 55-minute version of the speech later that day at the Chattanooga Tea Party’s Liberty Forum in Tennessee.