September, 10th 2007

GOP candidates and foreign policy

– Liz Mair

Ross Douthat at the Atlantic has an interesting post up today about the GOP candidates and what to expect in terms of foreign policy. I highly recommend it.

Here are the most interesting bits, for me:

Rudy Giuliani, for instance, seems to have the most hawkish advisors of any candidate, and the particular hawks he's chosen suggest that a Giuliani administration would drop at least some of the Bush-era democracy-promotion business, and take a view of the War on Terror that's closer to Andy McCarthy, say, than to Reuel Marc Gerecht. John McCain, as befits a candidate who started out hoping to be the consensus GOP choice, is more ecumenical in his choice of advisers, with everyone from Kissinger and Lawrence Eagleburger to Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol bending his ear; his determination to stake his primary campaign on the surge notwithstanding, it seems reasonable to suggest that a McCain Administration would be meaningfully more cautious and multilateralist than its predecessor. Romney's campaign is a bit more of a black box; his chief foreign policy adviser, Steven Schrage, a former Zoellick appointee at the Trade Representative's office, isn't exactly a household name. But - and make of these Washington whispers what you will - I've had a number of people tell me that despite his Santorumesque posturing on the looming threat of an international caliphate, Romney is privately much more friendly to old-school realism, as befits his northeastern-Republican, business class background.


So keeping in mind that all of this is guesswork to some extent, I think it's reasonable to suggest that if you're hoping for a Middle East strategy that involves widening the war's scope (to Iran, and perhaps elsewhere), then you should cast in your lot with Rudy Giuliani. If you're looking for an Administration that resembles the Reagan years or the second Bush term, with a roughly-equal balance of power between realists and idealists of various stripes, then McCain may be your man. If you feel nostalgic for the days of George H.W. Bush, but don't fret all that much about civil liberties, you might consider rolling the dice with Romney, betting that his hawkish primary campaign rhetoric is a slick sales pitch rather than a statement of his deepest principles. (Assuming you're comfortable with that level of phoniness, I mean.)

A few points I'd make in connection with this, by candidate order.

First, I don't think that Giuliani is necessarily prone to, say, attacking Iran. He is prone to talking tough, but one thing doesn't necessarily lead to the other, in my view (Reagan talked tough, but never nuked Moscow). I do however agree with Douthat that Giuliani would be much less interested in pursuing the failed neocon strategy of turning states run by authoritarian regimes into democracies overnight, without establishing a respect for the rule of law or some semblance of a tradition of liberties and a respect for them, than has Bush-- and that's one of the things that I like best about him.

Second, I think Douthat is right in saying that McCain probably would implement the foreign policy that is technically closest to Reagan. This, plus McCain's experience, is why I revert to my familiar McCainiac position wherever the issue of foreign policy comes up-- though I am wary of McCain's similar thinking on some issues to the administration's (e.g., democratization), which I simply don't trust.

Third, private assurances aside, I'm not convinced that Mitt Romney has any particular views on genuine foreign policy at all, most likely for lack of experience in dealing with foreign leaders (admittedly, Rudy doesn't have much, either, but at least he's been in a position to have to discuss one key issue-- terrorism-- with other world leaders). Romney has based his entire "expertise" in the area on the Olympics and token visits to Iraq and Gunatanamo. Frankly, the former experience is more tied to business than international affairs, and the latter, well, having traveled quite a bit in the Middle East, generally, makes me think I'm better qualified than him to be President on the foreign policy count. In any event, those kinds of experiences, I don't think, force one to really think about foreign policy objectives or the approach to take in meeting them. Neither does being Governor of Massachusetts, frankly.


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