Sunday, June 17, 2007

Romney/Obama Foreign Affairs essay roundup

The much talked-about July/August issue of Foreign Affairs arrived in the mail yesterday. It features essays on foreign policy from 2008 presidential candidates Barak Obama and Mitt Romney.

Both essays were pretty weak, but Romney's was just atrocious. If there is one reason for you to vote against him, let it be the contradiction between his description of the "defining challenge of our generation":

In the current conflict, the balance of forces is not nearly as close as during the early days of World War II and at critical points during the Cold War. There is no comparison between the economic, diplomatic, technological, and military resources of the civilized world today and those of the terrorist organizations and states that threaten it. Perhaps most important is the incredible resourcefulness of the American people and their unmatched education, inventiveness, and dedication. But today's threats are fundamentally different from those we grew used to confronting during World War II and the Cold War. Our enemies now have sleeper cells rather than armies. They use indiscriminate terror rather than tanks. Their soldiers -- as well as their victims -- include children. They count radical clergy among their generals. They communicate via the Internet. They recruit in schools, houses of worship, and prisons. They pursue nuclear weapons not as a strategic deterrent but as an offensive tool of terror.

And his first policy prescription:

The Bush administration has proposed an increase in defense spending for next year. This is an important first step, but we are going to need at least an additional $30-$40 billion annually over the next several years to modernize our military, fill gaps in troop levels, ease the strain on our National Guard and Reserves, and support our wounded soldiers. Looking at military spending over time as a percentage of GDP provides an interesting perspective. During World War II, the United States made huge sacrifices, investing more than a third of its economic activity to fight the war. As we confronted different enemies, such as those in Korea, our investment in defense responded accordingly. Since then, slowly but surely, it has decreased significantly. Through the buildup under President Reagan, it reached six percent of GDP in 1986 and helped turn the tide against the Soviet Union. Yet during the Clinton years, defense spending was dangerously reduced. More recently, although spending has increased, less than four percent of our GDP has been devoted to baseline defense spending. These ebbs and flows stemming from political dynamics have increased the costs and the uncertainty of our military preparedness.

The next president should commit to spending a minimum of four percent of GDP on national defense. Increased spending should not mean increased waste, however. A team of private-sector leaders and defense experts should carry out a stem-to-stern analysis of military purchasing. Accounts need to be thoroughly scrutinized to eliminate excessive contractor and supplier charges and prevent deals for equipment and programs that do more for politicians' popularity in their home districts than for the nation's protection. Congress needs to set stricter lobbying rules and keep a far more watchful eye on self-serving politicians, current and past, in regard to these matters.

So even though we completely outmatch the terrorists in resources and ingenuity, we have to grossly outspend them as well? I'd also like to see him try to enforce fiscal discipline on the military and the Congress. Let it be known that fighting the defense establishment can hazardous to the health of your SecDef. The rest of the essay is pretty incoherent and clearly demonstrates that he no grasp on why the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 actually worked when other attempts at bureaucratic reform didn't.

Obama's essay was a little better, but it felt pretty light on substance. He spends a good deal of the essay invoking the leadership of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy, but never really defines himself as a leader. The bulk of the essay consists of paeans to fashionable Democratic foreign policy causes with no clear sense of policy priority. The most developed portion of the essay was on nuclear nonproliferation, which shouldn't be surprising considering that Obama has been under Sen. Dick Lugar's tutelage in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the last three years:

As president, I will work with other nations to secure, destroy, and stop the spread of these weapons in order to dramatically reduce the nuclear dangers for our nation and the world. America must lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years -- the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a bomb.

This will require the active cooperation of Russia. Although we must not shy away from pushing for more democracy and accountability in Russia, we must work with the country in areas of common interest -- above all, in making sure that nuclear weapons and material are secure. We must also work with Russia to update and scale back our dangerously outdated Cold War nuclear postures and de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons. America must not rush to produce a new generation of nuclear warheads. And we should take advantage of recent technological advances to build bipartisan consensus behind ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. All of this can be done while maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent. These steps will ultimately strengthen, not weaken, our security.

As we lock down existing nuclear stockpiles, I will work to negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material. We must also stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology and ensure that countries cannot build -- or come to the brink of building -- a weapons program under the auspices of developing peaceful nuclear power. That is why my administration will immediately provide $50 million to jump-start the creation of an International Atomic Energy Agency-controlled nuclear fuel bank and work to update the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. We must also fully implement the law Senator Richard Lugar and I passed to help the United States and our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.

Finally, we must develop a strong international coalition to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Iran and North Korea could trigger regional arms races, creating dangerous nuclear flashpoints in the Middle East and East Asia. In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table. But our first measure must be sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy -- the kind that the Bush administration has been unable and unwilling to use.

As I read it, Obama is interested in the CTBT, the Fissban treaty, an international nuclear fuel bank, cooperative threat reduction. He also poop-poos the rush to field the RRW and says diplomacy would be the core of his nonproliferation policy to Iran and North Korea. Can't say I disagree when any of that.

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