Election will make little difference to U.S. foreign policy

Although Republicans view Obama as a wild-eyed radical who is dismantling America’s defences, his foreign policy is anything but

There was never going to be a big debate on U.S. foreign policy at the Democratic National Convention. It will be whatever Barack Obama says it should be, and besides, the delegates in Charlotte weren’t interested.

It’s the economy, stupid, and two months before the election nobody wants to get sidetracked into discussing a peripheral issue like American foreign policy. The only people who really care about that at the moment are foreigners and the U.S. military — and even they are not following the election with bated breath, because few of them believe that a change of president could fundamentally change the way the U.S. relates to the rest of the world.

Although the Republicans do their best to paint Obama as a wild-eyed radical who is dismantling America’s defences, he has actually been painfully orthodox in his foreign policy. He loves Israel to bits, he did not shut down the Afghan war (or Guantanamo), he uses drones to kill U.S. enemies (and sometimes, anybody else who is nearby), and he tamely signs off on a $700 billion defence budget.

How can Mitt Romney top that? He could say he loves Israel even more. In fact, he does say that, promising to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But that is purely gesture politics, since almost no other countries do, and in practice Obama gives Israel almost everything it wants already.

He could pledge to spend even more on “defence” than Obama, but the United States is already pouring 4.7 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product down that rathole. Obama has planned cuts over the next several years that would bring it down to about four per cent — and Romney has promised not to let it fall below four per cent. Not a huge difference there.

Romney does his best to disguise that fact by declaring that he would reverse certain of Obama’s decisions. U.S. ground forces, for example, would remain at their current level under a Romney administration, rather than being reduced by 100,000 people. But changing only that and nothing else would put $25 billion a year back into the defence budget. How do you do that without raising taxes?

The Republican candidate faces a constraint none of his recent predecessors had: a party that really cares about the deficit. In the past three decades, it has been Republican presidents who ran up the bills — Ronald Reagan never balanced a budget, and the Bush-Cheney team declared that “deficits don’t matter” — while the subsequent Democratic administrations tried to curb out-of-control spending.

Romney doesn’t have that option: the Tea Party wing of his party actually means what it says about both taxes and deficits. So what’s left for him? Well, he could promise to kill even more of America’s enemies than Obama, but he can’t get around the fact that it’s Obama who nailed Osama bin Laden, and Obama who is playing fast and loose with international law by using drones to carry out remote-control assassinations of hostile foreigners.

So Romney says very little about foreign policy because there is little he can say. The closest he has come to specific policy changes was an “action plan” he laid out during the Republican primaries last year, to be accomplished within a hundred days of taking office. It was an entirely credible promise, because none of it really involves a policy change at all.

He promised to “reassure traditional allies that America will fulfill its global commitments.” A couple of phone calls, and that’s done.

He declared that he would move more military forces to the Gulf “to send a message to Iran,” but he didn’t threaten to attack Iran, or endorse an Israeli attack on Iran. And he can always move them back again if he gets bored.

He said he would appoint a Middle East czar to oversee US support for the evolving Arab transitions. That’s one more government job, but Romney has even less idea than Obama about where he wants those transitions to end up. Besides, the United States has almost no leverage on this issue.

He will review the Obama administration’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. Not necessarily change it; just review it.

He will also review Obama’s global missile defence strategy. He might like to change that — Republicans have loved the concept ever since Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” dreams — but he hasn’t got the kind of money he would need for a more ambitious policy.

He will increase the government’s focus on cybersecurity. Ho-hum.

He will raise the rate of US Navy shipbuilding. So far as budget constraints permit, which is not very far at all.

And he will launch an economic opportunity initiative in Latin America. As long as it doesn’t cost much money.

It’s not surprising that the rest of the world doesn’t care much about the U.S. election. Most foreigners, on both the right and the left, are more comfortable with Obama than Romney, but U.S. foreign policy will stay the same whoever wins. They might not like all of it, but they’re used to it.

 

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Johns used her lunch break to film her audition video for the Vancouver Canucks.
VIDEO: Former Vees anthem singer wants to bring her voice to the Canucks

Crystal Johns made her audition tape during a lunch break

The Village of Keremeos is preparing to open up the village to in-province travellers as the province enters Phase 3 of its reopening plan. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Electric vehicle use continues to rise in Keremeos

August saw 147 vehicles for the peak of the year

Four staff members at the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen were self-isolating on March 19. The regional district is also considering whether to continue keeping its doors open to the public. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Feedback wanted on plan to make West Bench age-friendly

Some 43 per cent of West Bench residents are over the age of 55

The Okanagan Regional Library is holding a pair of online contests for its young readers. (File photo)
Okanagan Regional Library challenges young readers

Pair of contests online aimed at kids aged up to 18

Penticton Real Canadian Superstore
New COVID case at Penticton Superstore

The last day the employee worked was Jan. 21

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Auldin Maxwell stacks the 693rd block on the top of record-breaking Jenga tower on Nov. 29. (Submitted)
Salmon Arm boy rests world-record attempt on single Jenga brick

Auldin Maxwell, 12, is now officially a Guinness world record holder.

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

A Dodge Ram pickup similar to this one was involved in a hit-and-run in Lake Country on Saturday, Jan. 16. (Crime Stoppers photo)
Stolen truck involved in Okanagan hit-and-run

Incident happened on Highway 97 in Lake Country just before 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Kelowna Fire Department. (FILE)
Early morning downtown Kelowna dumpster fire deemed suspicious

RCMP and the Kelowna Fire Department will conduct investigations into the cause of the blaze

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Most Read