Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

FUZZY FOREIGN POLICY....Matt Yglesias, after observing that voting records don't really tell us that much anymore, unleashes some annoyance about Hillary Clinton's foreign policy rhetoric:

It does seem to me that at some point the Clinton camp needs to stop trying to blur the differences between her foreign policy views and Obama's and, instead, defend her views as better superior to his.

But that's the problem, isn't it? How do her views, in fact, differ from Obama's? Or Edwards's? Or Bill Richardson's? Unlike in domestic policy, where candidates fight each other with dueling white papers, most of the time there just aren't very many specific, detailed foreign policy issues on which candidates disagree. It's very much a rhetorical battlespace, and one where it's very difficult to draw sharp distinctions.

We're seeing the same thing on the Republican side, by the way. When a party occupies the White House, it takes its foreign policy cues from the president, and thus benefits from an aura of having a united and coherent foreign policy. That's because the party can simply coalesce around the actual actions of the president and be done with it. But now that campaign season is here, that fiction is harder to sustain. What's the difference between McCain's foreign policy and Romney's? Or Giuliani's? It's hard to say, isn't it?

So, yeah, I'd be interested in hearing Clinton, Obama, and Edwards explain how their foreign policy views differ, but I think that's unlikely because, in fact, their foreign policy views probably don't differ all that much in the first place. And to the extent they do, it's in the area of judgment: how their overall worldview affects the way they'd be likely to react to unexpected future events. That's a hard argument to have. In the meantime, judging them by rhetorical nuances and the kinds of advisors they hang out with is probably the best we can do.

Kevin Drum 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

"It's very much a rhetorical battlespace, and one where it's very difficult to draw sharp distinctions."

not really. it would be pretty easy to distinguish between "I want to stay in iraq forever, just like bush" and "I want to get out of iraq asap", it's only difficult when your views aren't different.

Posted by: supersaurus on April 3, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

To me it seems to make ample sense that Hillary's FP will be developed, and lead, by those folks who worked for Bill. I see little evidence of change.

That is why I am drawn to Barak. I am hoping for something different. I see Obama as not being weighted down by baggage, someone who will be creative at a time and place where we really need creativity

Posted by: Keith G on April 3, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

I agree - in fact I've gone further and argued that no democratic President will truly "leave" Iraq.

Posted by: Aziz Poonawalla on April 3, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Their domestic policies won't differ that much either. For voters, the major difference will become a matter of likeability and the perceived ability to carry out those policies.
Since so much of campaigning is managed stage craft, it is essential to try to gauge the candidates in a realistic setting.
In this day, because of the total perversion of governmental agencies by the Bush regime, it's more important than ever that the candidate have an understanding of the details of government in order to be able to fix the disaster that Bush has caused. It's a republican if we can keep it, but the prospects for that have never been dimmer in the post Civil War period because of the assaults of corporate interests, fundamentalist pseudo-Christian ideology and rightwing authoritarianism.

Posted by: Mike on April 3, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Ooompah-pah!


"In essence, it is a conflict between parasitic military imperialism, which relies on war and international political tension in order to justify the colossal existence of an overextended military-industrial complex, and free trade imperialism, which relies on free trade and technological superiority for international economic gains." Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 3, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

How do her views, in fact, differ from Romneys's? Or Giuliani's? Or McCain's?

Posted by: Brojo on April 3, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is right: we're not likely to hear specific arguments that differentiate the Dem candidates on foreign policy. The best we can do is make inferences about their judgment and worldview. The fact that Obama opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, and that Edwards has no problem saying unequivocally that he was wrong about the war, does imply something about their judgment and world view that distinguishes them both from Hilary. It is, of course impossible to say with any high degeree of confidence whether that means that they would behave differently from her once in office.

Posted by: Anthony Greco on April 3, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

US foreign policy is always a reflection of US domestic policy to be inflicted upon foreigners. That's understandable, since foreign policy is about the national interest. Although one could wish for less short-term thinking in both.

It's therefore possible to divine a candidate's foreign policy by their domestic platform. Views on labor laws, for instance, will say volumes about attitudes to free trade. A position on homeland security will determine a position in the "war on terror". Domestic drug enforcement will determine foreign policy towards drug-producing nations. Domestic energy concerns will power much of broader foreign policy, as always. Finance and credit policy, especially as it effects the big corporate players, will have a knock-on effect on the issue of relieving 3rd world debt. And so on.

Still, it would be nice if the current crop of candidates would break with Bush's methods and actually join the dots instead of having us all play KremlinWatch DC.

Regards, Cernig

Posted by: Cernig on April 3, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's pre-9/11 rhetoric sounded very isolationist--so much for rhetoric in the face of changing reality.

Assessing their competence and judgment is more fruitful. Regardless of what Bush _said_ about foreign policy, we all knew he was an idiot.

Posted by: none on April 3, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, Kevin, for actually mentioning the only worthwhile candidate on either side, Bill Richardson. He may not have as much money as Obama or Hillary - but at least "independent" bloggers such as yourself occasionally mention his name. As if he was a real "player".

Posted by: Extradite Rumsfeld on April 3, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

That's why Gore needs to be drafted. A choice, not an echo and all that...

Posted by: The Fool on April 3, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think the views matter so much as the attitude. Do people think any of these candidates will stand up to threats and take actions decisively? That matters more than the specifics which are often hard to communicate.

Posted by: Frank J. on April 3, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

There's a pretty big difference between someone who has thought about foreign policy a lot, outside the context of campaign positioning, and someone who has not.

In that respect there is a big difference between McCain and all the other Republicans now in the race (with the possible, and partial exception of Brownback) and between Biden, Dodd and Richardson on the one hand and all the other Democrats in the race on the other. That doesn't mean the candidates who have devoted some time to foreign policy and national security affairs are necessarily right. But one would think the last fourteen years would be lesson enough that we don't want any more Presidents who come to the job having only thought about foreign policy as one of a list of issues they have to say something about in their stump speeches.

A couple of additional points: first, a fair amount of rhetoric coming from Presidential campaigns necessarily comes from campaign operatives who know even less about foreign and national security affairs than the candidates do, filtered through reporters who are similarly unquainted with the subject. Second, as Republicans feel themselves tied to the President, Democratic Presidential candidates traditionally don't get any points within the party for creative foreign policy ideas -- because Democratic nominations are traditionally not decided by groups who care about foreign policy.

This year, it's a little different, but only a little. Many Democratic voters are passionate about getting out of Iraq (there is, of course, a much smaller but still powerfully influential group of Democrats whose priority is Israel). But that by itself wouldn't give a candidate in Sen. Clinton's position much room to maneuver. Say, for argument's sake, that she had better ideas than Sen. Obama about American policy toward China's rise, expanding the UN Security Council, or reforming Pentagon procurement -- what good would that do her among Democratic donors? In Democratic primaries?

Not much good at all, and the same is true for the other Democratic candidates. They are like linebacker prospects at the NFL combine who may succeed or fail in pro football based on whether they can read offenses but who are being evaluated only on their bench press and 40 time. Foreign policy and national security affairs should be an area in which demonstrated mastery brings big political benefits. It isn't.

Kevin's argument about judgment, incidentally, strikes me as an evasion. The odds are that someone new to a subject as difficult as foreign policy and national security affairs is going to have pretty poor judgment. It's not a certainty, but it's a strong probability. We don't do ourselves any favors by grasping at straws -- who are the candidate's advisers, wasn't he mayor of a city with many immigrants, didn't she learn a lot at state dinners while her husband was President -- and trying to make ourselves believe that any candidate who has thought no more deeply about foreign policy than Bill Clinton or George Bush did is going to be the second coming of Harry Truman.

Posted by: Zathras on April 3, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Quoth Matt:

It does seem to me that at some point the Clinton camp needs to stop trying to blur the differences between her foreign policy views and Obama's and, instead, defend her views as better superior to his.

Not really. When you are ahead, you merely need to deny people a reason to change positions. When you are behind you need to establish the reason to change. As long as Hillary leads Obama in the polls, she doesn't need to distinguish herself, and Obama does need to distinguish himself.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 3, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

All of these candidates have national security policy people that have been trained pretty much in the same way. Regardless of whether they are Republican or Democrat, they all have a Woolsey or a Perle whispering in their ear about how to use American military power to enhance our international hegemony.

Posted by: Brojo on April 3, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK
Not really. When you are ahead, you merely need to deny people a reason to change positions. When you are behind you need to establish the reason to change. As long as Hillary leads Obama in the polls, she doesn't need to distinguish herself, and Obama does need to distinguish himself. Posted by: cmdicely on April 3, 2007 at 2:45 PM

Sure, if you want to trivialize the process of selecting a suitable candidate for President to the status of a foot-race.

This type of gaming is frankly disgusting. I need information from all the candidates. If one withholds that information because it tactically suits her/him then they do a disservice to the country and to me.

And I guess I've got information from them anyway. But it certainly isn't flattering information...

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on April 3, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK
Sure, if you want to trivialize the process of selecting a suitable candidate for President to the status of a foot-race.

Its not "triviliazing" to note the facts. The facts are, the candidate that already has the most support doesn't need to highlight differences, someone seeking to displace that candidate does. Now, should they in some ideal sense of what I'd like to see out of a candidate? Sure. But there is a difference between what someone needs to do and what they should do, and often there is tension between them. The two things should not be confused.

Note that I am not advocating Hillary blurring distinctions.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 3, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

The facts are, the candidate that already has the most support doesn't need to highlight differences...

Or in other words...If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 3, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

It is ironic how much attention progressives have made to the precise differences among the Democratic candidates in foreign policy with regard to Iraq -- but always with regard to the past, particularly the Iraq war resolution.

Hillary is anathema to many because she has refused to apologize for her support of the resolution at the time. Edwards is regarded as much more acceptable because he has said his vote was a mistake. Obama is considered a saint because he said at the time that he opposed the resolution (of course, at the time, Obama was a Illinois State Senator representing one of the most liberal districts in all of America, but this context is conveniently never mentioned by his supporters, or, it would seem, by anyone else that I've noticed.)

And somehow this past is supposed to suggest all kinds of things about what these candidates will do in the future on foreign policy. Yet I can rarely see a dime's of difference between them. In fact, it's Obama, the great hope of the progressives, who seems to be the more deferent nowadays to the Republican side of things, basically caving into Bush when it comes to the current Iraq legislation. Edwards, I gather, has taken a far more confrontational approach (I don't know where Hillary stands on it).

On some level, the obsession progressives have with the 2002 Iraq resolution seems a bit, well, unhinged, given the irrelevance it seems to have for current and future foreign policy positions of Democratic candidates. If it has no predictive power in terms of the future, why engage in what seems like little more than recrimination over it? What's the point?

Posted by: frankly0 on April 3, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Has Clinton rolled over and played dead on the Senate military funding bill if Bush vetoes it, as Obama has already pre-emptively done?

(Not that I like Hillary or anything, but Obama left himself pretty open, especially after Reid's comments came out.)

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on April 3, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Has Clinton rolled over and played dead on the Senate military funding bill if Bush vetoes it, as Obama has already pre-emptively done?

I don't know about Hillary. I haven't heard of any commitment yet out of her camp.

But the more I see of Obama, the more he seems like a Lieberman type, full of his own Holiness, always preaching, always trying to find a "bipartisan" compromise to every problem, be it Iraq or national health care.

Why he should be regarded as the great hope for the progressives I just don't begin to get. Somebody's been snookered, I think.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 3, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Ask the Dem candidates: for what purposes are you going to leave troops in Iraq after your first 6-12 months in office, how many will that take, and how long do you anticipate leaving them there?

To what extent will they be in regular contact with the citizenry, and to what extent will they be confined to the Permanent Bases, or 'over the horizon' in Kuwait, but left there in case of emergency?

I bet there'd be both similarities and substantial divergences amongst the Big Three Dem candidates.

Posted by: RT on April 3, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK
Why he should be regarded as the great hope for the progressives I just don't begin to get.

I think he's more been glommed onto by the "desperate for change but undiscerning about the details" than "progressives", per se, and there are certainly plenty of the former around in the present environment. Of course, when you aren't that clear about what you want, its easier for those desperate and scared (and here, that would include many progressives) to read their own desperate hopes into your platitudes.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 3, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who drops by Giuliani's website for his take on the issues is going to find only a single paragraph on each of the major issues of the day. (Health care is not on the list, btw.)

You may not like McCain's positions, but at least he has positions.

The question I'd like to ask the major GOP candidates is:

"If things continue to not get demonstrably better in Iraq, how many troops do we leave there, and for how long?

"We've been there for four years already, and each year, conditions in Iraq have been worse than the year before. I know you believe that if we stay, things will eventually improve. But if you're wrong and things get no better, how long do we stay anyway, if you're elected? Another year? Three? Five? Ten? Twenty? How many?"

Posted by: RT on April 3, 2007 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK
Anyone who drops by Giuliani's website for his take on the issues is going to find only a single paragraph on each of the major issues of the day. (Health care is not on the list, btw.)

You may not like McCain's positions, but at least he has positions.

Having very bad positions is not, IMO, superior to having no positions.

That being said, not being a Republican primary voter, its likely that I won't face the prospect of having to choose between McCain and Giuliani, anyhow.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 3, 2007 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

You fellows won't have to guess at Ron Paul's foreign policy.

U.S. troops out of Iraq and the rest of our empire's garrison bases like Korea and Germany, defend our border sand no more meddling in other nation's affairs.

It's pretty straight forward.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on April 3, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Presidents don't dictate foreign policy, circumstances do. If you believe America to be locked into its role as world hegemon (and no candidate who doesn't believe this is taken seriously), the foreign policy options at your disposal become rather limited.

Were it not for the electorate's demand that Presidential candidates sound like comic-book superheroes, they might propose a more intelligent range of policy suggestions.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on April 3, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

"On some level, the obsession progressives have with the 2002 Iraq resolution seems a bit, well, unhinged, given the irrelevance it seems to have for current and future foreign policy positions of Democratic candidates. If it has no predictive power in terms of the future, why engage in what seems like little more than recrimination over it? What's the point?" - franklyO

The POINT is that Clinton and Edwards either lied about believing Iraq had WMD or else were abysmally ignorant of the facts that were available in 2002 on the internet. There was just so much info online, everything from a transcript of Saddam's son-in-law's testimony to British intelligence (which Bush totally misquoted) saying that Iraq had quit all WMD production in 1991 to US documents with maps of Iraq's oil fields to Scott Ritter, etc., etc. And more. Plus the OBVIOUS lies that were coming out of the administration almost on a daily basis. Plus the world-wide anti-war demonstrations.

I spent a lot of time researching in those days and I was 99% sure that Iraq had no WMD. I quit watching television news because I would get so angry at what I considered propaganda. So THE POINT is that I don't want a president who lies, period. I've had more than enough of that for the past six years. I believe that Hillary lied for political reasons and that Edwards was simply clueless. I can forgive neither.

A special thanks to MsNThrope for the quote which is important enough to repeat. This is something I'd like to hear the candidates talk about at length.

"In essence, it is a conflict between parasitic military imperialism, which relies on war and international political tension in order to justify the colossal existence of an overextended military-industrial complex, and free trade imperialism, which relies on free trade and technological superiority for international economic gains." Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism

Posted by: nepeta on April 3, 2007 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly