Parties and Foreign Policy

Parties and Foreign Policy

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


There is something extremely disconcerting about this year’s presidential campaign. Were it not for the attacks against American and European embassies in Muslim countries, there appears to virtually no interest in discussing foreign policy issues. This is extremely disturbing given the serious issues facing the U.S. in the world as well as the differences between the candidates and their respective parties. It is a matter which ought to be alarming as well to Israel and all the countries in the Middle East.

For Obama versus his own party there is a true ambivalence as to how far to carry the flag of human rights priorities versus national interest. After almost four years in the White House, Obama has continued to waffle with no direction dominant.  Obama would like to move more strongly to the left in foreign policy, but the minute he moves that way the Clinton Democrats force him to retreat to a much more pragmatic position, and then he capitulates. As is his operating style, Obama knows what he wants, but—what differentiates him from Romney—the President makes policy not based on ideology.

For Romney his party has clearly deserted the neo-cons who have dominated the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan. The drift now with the Tea Party ascendancy is towards a much more America first, isolationist direction. Foreign policy for them is not to engage as long as the United States is not actually attacked. One almost had a sense during the past weeks that some Republicans felt that the way to avoid another Chris Stevens being killed is to close embassies and to go home. A movement to withdraw into ourselves now appears to be the Romney disposition as well. 

As he has shown on most issues, Romney moves in whatever direction it takes.  Romney’s goal is to be elected and his policy positions are strictly based on that calculated premise. For Romney, his attitude is to do whatever it takes to become President, even if it is 180 degrees different from what he said or advocated previously. 

These models of leadership rightly ought to make Israel anxious. Assuming it is an accurate portrait of both Obama and Romney and given the current clear polling data suggesting Obama moving into a consistent lead for re-election, however, why does Bibi persist with a publicly hostile attitude towards Obama. With the continuing alarming developments in Iran, it seems it would behoove Israel to be much more constructive in its approach towards the U.S. 

Admittedly, this Israeli Government has and will continue to receive much opposition from a second Obama Administration on its settlement policy, but that would seem to be a small price to pay if at the end of the day the U.S. Government will be there against Iran. Obama, unlike the suggested likely behavior of Romney, will ultimately always do the pragmatically right thing. While the neo-cons might have been more acceptable to Israel, it seems likely that were Romney to win, they will not be the foreign policy force advising a Romney Administration.

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