Lately, here and there, a smattering of left-leaning critics and analysts have delivered scathing reviews of President Obama’s foreign policy. Some insist on calling him “worse than Bush,” which simply means that they’ve forgotten 2001–05 almost completely. Among Obama’s faults that they catalogue are many that I’ve criticized myself: spending far too much on defense; institutionalizing the “Global War on Terror” via the worldwide drone-led killing machine; tripling our forces in Afghanistan in 2009; seeking a dangerous, anti-China alliance among Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and other countries in Asia; blundering into Libya; imposing useless and counterproductive sanctions on Iran while building up US forces in the Persian Gulf; utterly ignoring Palestine; trampling civil liberties at home and keeping Guantánamo open; and more. Feel free to add to the list.
I get it. Still, tomorrow I’ll be voting for Obama as if my life depended on it.
There are plenty of reasons, of course, to vote for Obama on domestic concerns too, especially to protect what’s left of the shredded safety net, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and to avoid yet another ratcheting up of income inequality via tax cuts for the superrich.
But on foreign policy, make no mistake: on virtually every issue related to national security, Mitt Romney’s attitude is: “I’ll see your bet, and raise you.”
Many—not all, but many—of his foreign policy advisers are neoconservatives, hawks and pro-defense ideologues. Like George W. Bush, not all of Romney’s appointed national security officials will be neocons. Just as Bush put people such as Colin Powell and Condi Rice in positions of power, Romney will do that same with so-called moderates. But neoconservatives operate like Bolsheviks, in a tightly coordinated phalanx, and they will work their will. In the next crisis—say, a flare-up between China and Taiwan—they’ll be the ones calling for aggressive military action. And who’ll trust Romney to turn to moderates such as Richard Haass and Robert Zoellick, rather than to Dan Senor and John Bolton? Not me.
Let’s go down a short list:
On Iran, Romney and Co. will be far more likely to join Israel in a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s dozens of nuclear research and production sites, reactors, enrichment facilities and the like, along with secondary strikes at air defense systems, Iran’s Gulf naval forces, command and control centers, and infrastructure.
In Asia, Romney—who’s attacked Obama for failing to expand the US Navy—is almost certain to accelerate America’s Asian air and naval buildup in Asia and the Pacific far beyond what the Obama administration has planned. Imagine Japan tilting right, in a confrontation with China over disputed islands, not far-fetched at all.
On Afghanistan, though he’s endorsed the 2014 drawdown timetable, a Romney administration is likely to respond far more aggressively than Obama might, in a second term, if Afghanistan starts to fall apart in 2014–15—as it probably will. Unlike Iraq, which simply consolidate its pro-Iran tilt after the United States left, Afghanistan is much more likely to splinter, with pro-Taliban forces and Pakistan’s ISI moving forcefully back in to rebuild Islamabad’s anti-India bulwark there. Obama might live with that outcome. Romney won’t.
On Russia, Obama has already signaled to President Putin that he’ll seek deals over arms reduction, Iran, Syria and other issues in his second term. Romney has called Russia our “number-one geopolitical foe.” If Romney is elected, expect stepped-up efforts to expand NATO into Georgia and other former parts of the USSR, high-tech missile defense and radar systems in Eastern Europe, pressure on Western Europe to isolate Russia economically, and worse.
On China, as noted above, Romney isn’t likely to squeeze China economically, despite his campaign rhetoric in Ohio. He’ll go along with his corporate cronies, for the most part, and in any case the United States can’t afford to alienate its chief creditor. But China’s new leadership, which will be installed days after the US election, is closely tied to the military, and it can be counted on to be more assertive in Asia and beyond, resisting US hegemony there. President Obama seems to understand the need for a US-China accommodation. Romney doesn’t.
In the Middle East, expect Romney to blindly side with Israel on virtually everything. In 2009, Obama began to challenge Israel on issues from Iran to settlements, and then caved in. But the Israeli far right knows that Obama is less likely to cave in during a second term. Romney, on the other hand, will side with Israel across the board. And Romney’s team is far more likely to see the rise of multifaceted Islamist movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Turkey and elsewhere—one result of the Arab Spring—as a dangerous threat to US (and Israeli) interests. Needless to say, alienating Islamists, bashing Islam, attacking the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. will not only lose points across the Middle East but will create more radicals, jihadists and Al Qaeda types from Pakistan to Morocco and Mali.
Feel free to add to this list, too. But vote.
For more on the foreign policy impact of tomorrow's election, check out Robert Scheer on "The Case for Obama ."