With the recent storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the killing of four diplomats in the Benghazi consulate attack, including Chris Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, it’s even more important than before to see how foreign policy is translating in the presidential election.
With the main campaign debates centered on domestic challenges like the economy and unemployment, these unexpected events have forced candidates to clarify their overall policies. Barack Obama favors negotiation and multilateral American action, where nations cooperate together to solve problems. Mitt Romney favors the “big stick” approach of showing America is not afraid to act alone in response to threats and attacks against U.S. interests.
Obama has been praised and criticized for his “hands off” policies. In the past four years, Obama has earned points for winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also highlights that his administration was the one to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. However, in doing so, he also seriously strained U.S. relations with our already-fickle ally Pakistan by using drones that killed civilians and breaking the sovereign state border during the raid.
Despite these setbacks, Obama still seems to be the favored candidate when it comes to foreign policy. But Romney is taking some serious swings at Obama’s policies, particularly concerning the Middle East and Northern Africa.
While Romney has not gone so far as to advocate for U.S. military involvement in the Syria conflict, he has called for the arming of rebel groups, a policy in direct contrast to Obama’s strategy of coalescing with regional powers to pressure dictators to step down.
Romney needs to be cautious with his statements regarding foreign policy in this election. His recent comments suggest that Obama was apologizing for the Benghazi consulate attacks and was even partly responsible for precipitating the violence, resulting in him being lambasted by his own party.
This criticism comes in the midst of escalating tensions between the U.S. and Israel, as Obama is reported to have refused a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month to discuss the Iranian nuclear program. However, with Netanyahu becoming increasingly blunt about his willingness to attack Iran if it does not stop enriching uranium, Romney should be concerned about fervently supporting Israel. Obama’s diplomatic pursuits have proved less than fruitful in Iran, and while he supports Israel, Romney is more favored there.
Naturally, we will see Obama and Romney duke it out over the next couple months as they compete for the independent votes that will hold significant weight in deciding who wins the election. Romney in particular should tread carefully, so as to not alienate the very undecided voters he will desperately need to win over.
A recent study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs suggests more and more Americans, especially those who are undecided, support policies embraced by the Obama administration. The study found a majority of Americans believe the defense budget should be cut, we should be more cautious about using military force to deal with rogue nations and we should impose tighter economic sanctions against Iran to deter its further development of a nuclear program.
But while many Americans seem to be more supportive of Obama’s foreign policy plans, who is to say they will vote in line with these issues seemingly secondary to jobs and unrelenting unemployment? Maybe Romney need not be too concerned with foreign policy after all.