Libya, Romney, and Obama

I am sympathetic to Michael Koplow’s concern about the shallowness of the Obama and Romney discussion of foreign policy thus far. Perhaps it will change in the third debate but don’t hold your breathe.

Yes, the Libya discussion misses the important elements. It is not whether Libya will democratize, not whether the leakage of arms from Libya is bad, not whether we should work with Islamists, not whether the way the US did military intervention there was a good or bad model or sui generis.

No, instead, we have been treated to Libya as gotcha campaign politics. Can Romney pin the death of a US ambassador on President Obama and thereby demonstrate that Obama’s Mideast policy, if not foreign policy, isn’t working? Tune in at 11.

It bothers me on several levels. The immediate politicization of the deaths is sad but not surprising. No, what really irks me is to that it ignores the chance to debate really important questions raised by other aspects of Libya. (Can anyone say Arab “Spring?”) Moreover, it wrongly assumes, yet again, that the US can control and influence whatever it wants, that domestic and regional causes are irrelevant in the face of Uncle Sam. Let me say this loud and clear: the United States does not run the world.

But trying saying that in a presidential campaign. Then we would hear how that candidate is a declinist who does not believe America is a great country (God Bless America!). Weakness! Appeasement! To be seen as a patriotic, God-fearing American, it seems, presidents and candidates have to embrace the falsehood of American omnipotence. Actually it is partial omnipotence, as in if I ran the country rather than my opponent, America would be omnipotent.

Isolationism, restraint, humility, or just a greater hesitation to meddle abroad are not politically palatable.

As if the Iraq debacle of 2003 and thereafter never happened.

Meanwhile, Libya sucks up so much of the debate and campaign oxygen that we never get to a discussion of many other important issues in the international realm. An extended discussion of China (not the trivialities and foolishness of last night’s Thrilla on Long Island), how to deal with Russia, the Eurozone crisis, even Afghanistan to some extent are either never raised or firmly planted the on the back burner. Is there anything the US can or should do to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Do you have any arms control priorities? How would you work with Russia on Syria and Iran? Is it worth going to war to defend Taiwan? Do you worry about North Korean nuclear weapons?

U.S. foreign policy relates to the whole world, not just Libya. I think.


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