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Obama's Foreign Policy: Responsibility, Not Recklessness

Jordan Klein |
October 16, 2012 | 9:26 a.m. PDT


Voters give President Obama a lead over Governor Romney on foreign policy. (Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
Voters give President Obama a lead over Governor Romney on foreign policy. (Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004 against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Republicans strategically used issues related to foreign policy in order to narrowly secure Bush a second term.

The election took place in the middle of the War in Iraq, when the memories of the September 11, 2001 attacks were still painfully fresh in the minds of the American public. The Bush campaign argued that Kerry was not a strong leader and that the Democrats were unsuited to fight the War on Terror. The strategy paid great dividends, as polls showed that most voters did indeed trust President Bush over Senator Kerry when it came to foreign policy and combating terrorism.

The fact that a Republican President won re-election after a campaign dominated by arguments over war and terror policy is not surprising.

Republicans have traditionally enjoyed an advantage over Democrats with regard to foreign policy in general. By relentlessly attacking liberals as soft on terrorists and enemies abroad, conservatives somehow established the notion in the minds of many that Democrats were synonymous with weakness. It was this pervasive belief that allowed Bush to win re-election, even after an historically bad foreign policy track record.

Yet in a miraculous reversal of events, Democrats have for the first time in many election cycles become the decisive favorites in the arena of foreign policy. A recent poll asking voters which candidate would do better for the country in terms of foreign policy gave President Obama a sizable 10 point lead over his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. This is a stunning redemption for President Obama, who, in his first presidential campaign in 2008, faced harsh criticism from Republicans about his lack of executive experience.

President Obama’s foreign policy achievements have certainly been impressive during his first term. His signature moment would have to be the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Republicans inexplicably refuse to give President Obama credit for Bin Laden’s death, but the fact remains that it was Obama as commander-in-chief who gave the final call to order American troops in to Pakistan. This mission was fraught with many risks, and Pakistan, a nation armed with nuclear weapons, was infuriated by Obama’s decision to launch the raid without issuing prior notice.

It is also completely valid to note that President Bush failed to capture Bin Laden in his seven years in office following the 9/11 attacks. He even admitted late in his presidency that catching Bin Laden was no longer a top priority of his. Additionally, Mitt Romney in 2007 refused to state if he would unilaterally go into Pakistan to catch Bin Laden. The fact is that Democrats are responsible for the capture of Osama Bin Laden, and that is a fact that Republicans simply cannot accept.

President Obama has also successfully ended the War in Iraq. The last combat troops were withdrawn in December of 2011. While there is still a large American presence in Iraq, the fighting is officially over. Once again, we see Democrats cleaning up the Republican foreign policy mess. President Bush steered us into Iraq under the false pretense that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was a blatant lie that cost well over 4,000 American lives and $800 trillion dollars. Obama has also drawn down the War in Afghanistan, albeit after an initial surge early in his presidency.

We got to witness the difference between Obama's foreign policy and Bush's foreign policy during the brief conflict with Libya early in 2011. President Obama brought the United States into cooperation with NATO troops, and a balanced coalition was able to knock Moammar Gaddafi out of power. This is a sharp contrast from when President Bush defied international resistance and essentially single-handedly brought the United States into armed conflict. President Obama simply behaves more responsibly on the international stage, and recognizes the need for allies.

Most of the criticism that Governor Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan, his running mate, direct toward President Obama in the area of foreign policy seems to revolve around his supposed inability to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Yet, the Obama administration has hit Iran with some of the strongest sanctions in the history of the United Nations. These sanctions are crippling Iran’s economy and bringing them closer and closer to the negotiating table.

Governor Romney is reckless with his loose talk regarding war with Iran. President Obama has responded that war should only be a last resort, and this is completely accurate. Another large-scale war right now would cripple the United States' economy and would sentence thousands more of our troops to death. President Obama’s more nuanced approach to foreign policy is much more preferable to another war-mongering Republican's.

Another ludicrous attack of President Obama’s foreign policy that has appeared in Governor Romney’s talking points lately is the idea that President Obama is somehow at fault for the terrorist attack that occurred at the American embassy in Libya. If Republicans can blame President Obama for a minor terrorist attack half a world away, then President Bush can certainly be blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks. After all, he received multiple classified documents just months before the attack essentially stating that Al-Qaeda was determined to strike America.

A double standard has existed for too long, by which Republicans simply receive a free pass on issues of foreign policy because of their jingoism and bluster. Democrats are the more responsible actors on the world stage, and President Obama is clearly proving this. The American public is obviously realizing this as well.

The Romney campaign would be wise to steer well clear of foreign policy discussions, for President Obama has a litany of favorable talking points related to foreign affairs. Obama, like all incumbent presidents, also enjoys an advantage over his challenger due to the fact that he is privy to a wide variety of intelligence and possesses obvious on-the-job experience. If Mitt Romney is to become the next president, he should avoid making foreign policy a central part of his argument to voters.


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