If citizens want to have an opinion on how American foreign policy should be conducted, they may sadly be forced to think for themselves for the foreseeable future.
My European friends typically portray Republican foreign policy as monolithic. Which is to say, nasty. This is baffling, as there is little consensus on foreign policy in either party beyond razing any Olympic uniforms made in China, and wholly and unquestionably doing whatever AIPAC wants.
There are perhaps one or two blurry foreign policy differences between the major parties. The Democrats are arguably less hawkish, with the notable exception of when it comes to doing things like voting on whether or not to bomb other countries. In these rare instances (invading Iraq, for instance) they’re surprisingly gung-ho.
To their credit, Democratic lawmakers did not vote in favor of the Libyan military intervention of 2011. However this is largely because President Obama neglected to ask Congress’s permission to do so.
While the Republican Party still sports an alarming amount of Neocons eager to engage in nation building (usually by bombing the nations they intend to build), it’s unfair to describe the GOP as the party of war. In truth the GOP has only one commonality: a fear of commitment. Isolationist, Neoconservative, Realist and whatever exactly Governor Romney is, Republicans are the party hesitant to confirm “relationship status” with other countries on Facebook.
Let’s look at three recent prominent contenders for the Republican presidential nomination:
First, Rick Santorum, whose hypothetical White House policy briefings would involve several men (note: men) sitting around in sweater vests discussing “Operation Glass Parking Lot.” Santorum appeared to be in such a hurry to catapult projectiles at Tehran that, endowed with the presidency, he would probably order NASA to build a time machine through which to dispatch F16’s to carpet bomb the Ayatollah last month. After leveling the Parchin, Bidganeh and Qom military complexes, they would circle back to the 1950’s to refuel their sweatervest reserves and return to now.
There could be no greater contrast than Ron Paul, a staunch non-interventionist who would ideally like America to transition from the world’s only remaining super power to a sort of 320-million person Switzerland. Defend the shores, deliver the mail. Stop.
The only commonality between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul is that both find the notion of any treaty compelling America to legally bind itself to the consensus of other nations utterly distasteful. Differences notwithstanding, monks and playboys are nonetheless bachelors.
As it stands, the Republican contender for the presidency is Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney’s foreign policy plan is more or less identical to President Obama’s, only with more aggressive adverbs.
It’s possible he’ll start a trade war with China by labeling them as currency manipulators. In his book No Apology, he was of the opinion that “protectionism stifles productivity,” which indicates a reluctance to start a trade war. More than likely, he would carry on the same Free Trade policies enacted by Obama, many of which started during the Bush administration.
The only discernible difference between the diplomatic and economic measures which President Obama has employed to halt the Iranian nuclear program and Romney’s counter plan is his more liberal use of exclamation marks. He would also support covertly support dissidents and increase the US Naval presence in the Straight of Hormuz. Primarily, however, he would rely upon economic sanctions and diplomacy, reserving military intervention in the event that soft power fails. Just like Obama.
What are we to make of all this? The first is that Americans don’t particularly care about foreign policy. If they did, Jon Hunstman would be orchestrating it right now.
The second lesson is that, while Republicans and Democrats might neatly organize themselves into tug-of-war teams on issues like abortion, healthcare and firearm regulation, there is no actual partisan American foreign policy agenda.
If citizens want to have an opinion on how America should conduct itself abroad, they may sadly be forced to think for themselves for the foreseeable future.