Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Democratic representative from Washington State’s 9th district, thinks you should be afraid of a “Romney-Cheney” foreign policy doctrine and took about 900 words on ForeignPolicy.com to tell us all why. Here is Smith’s opening paragraph.
A large majority of Americans agree that President Barack Obama has a strong record protecting our nation’s security and that he has the right vision for American leadership in the world. Governor Mitt Romney’s proposals, in contrast, promise to return us to the discredited doctrines and reckless policies of the George W. Bush administration. We’ve seen that movie before, and it doesn’t end well.
A big statement, so let’s look at the pieces, starting with “a large majority of Americans” like Obama’s ideas for American leadership in the world. Smith is pulling from an AP poll with a sample of 1,004 people tilted 49% Democrat to 37% Republican that asks exactly two questions on Obama’s foreign policy: do you approve/disapprove/neither of the way Obama is handling “Terrorism” and “The situation in Afghanistan”? He earns 64% and 53% respectively, an average of 58.5%–that’s a large majority? The Real Clear Politics average of all polls, “President Obama Job Approval – Foreign Policy,” a much broader based representation, shows Obama getting a 48.8% approval rate, a minority.
On the AP poll Obama gets his best number on fighting terrorism. So what is he doing? Some of his tools for fighting terrorism are the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps and data collection, military commissions and drone strikes. These are all Bush administration programs that have been kept by the Obama administration and, in some cases (particularly drones), massively expanded.
And the programs Obama specifically condemned the Bush administration for prior to taking office such as Guantanamo Bay, assassinations, rendition, and enhanced interrogation? Gitmo is still open and Obama is still breathing heavily after his many victory laps post-Usama Bin Laden assassination. In fact, Obama has even expanded the assassination program to include the summary execution of an American–something that made even the most hawkish conservatives blink.
Rendition (handing over detainees to other countries) continues under the Obama administration, although they claim it will be closely monitored to ensure detainees are not tortured–small consolation to human rights activists. And finally, the big one, “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” It was Dick Cheney himself that said, “President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate.” And though the left waited with baited breath for the indignant denial, it never came. It turns out Obama has a personal kill list and likes to approve individual drone strikes as well. And they call Dick Cheney Darth Vader?
Obama famously said at his inauguration that Bush’s approach to anti-terrorism represented a “false choice between our safety and our ideals.” One can only conclude that liberal ideology has shifted since 2008. In fact, Mr. Smith’s only specific example of Romney’s misguided support of Bush-era foreign policy is the Iraq invasion–a constant liberal talking point. But Smith lacks much standing on this issue because, though Romney may have lent his support to the action, Smith lent his vote. Smith goes on to say:
Obama has demonstrated that he is a strong and coherent leader on foreign policy issues… He has repaired our alliances abroad and led the international community in putting the most crippling sanctions on Iran in history. A Romney presidency promises to take us back to something all too familiar: a Bush-Cheney doctrine — equal parts naïve and cavalier — which eagerly embraces military force without fully considering the consequences. That “attack now and figure it out later” mindset had disastrous consequences for our country.
Actually, Obama has granted 20 waivers to the Iranian oil sanctions and allowed NATO member Turkey to trade 58 tons of gold for Iranian oil–policy that is not exactly crippling, coherent,d or strong. But it is this last sentence that is most interesting. One of the few examples of original thinking by Obama when it comes to foreign policy was his approach to Libya, for which the term “leading from behind” was coined. Instead of Smith’s characterization of “attack now and figure it out later,” under Obama it became “attack now and don’t bother to figure it out at all,” an approach now being considered for intervention in the Syrian civil war.
What makes this a particularly egregious statement is that Smith is the ranking minority member of the House Armed Services Committee. And speaking to a group of foreign policy experts July 12 at the American Security Project, a Washington D.C. think tank, he said we should step up our military presence in sub-Saharan Africa and that our Africa policy should serve as a “model for how we need to engage in foreign policy and national security broadly.”
Obama’s Africa policy has played out disastrously, as Smith well knows. Leading from behind in Libya had far-reaching consequences. By not being on the ground to control freed weapons stockpiles in Libya, an unprecedented proliferation of weapons across the continent has taken place. Other negative consequences are the proliferation of child soldiering, including during the Libyan conflict where we actually provided arms that ended up in the hands of children, and the displacement of mercenaries who, having become suddenly unemployed, spread out across the continent looking for work. This last item was a key factor in the fall of Mali, where well-armed Taureg rebels returning from Libya tipped the balance and ended an African democracy that had stood for 20 years. It seems a strange model to laud.
How does Smith get to a Cheney-Romney doctrine? “It’s particularly worrisome that on Thursday, July 12, Governor Mitt Romney is attending a GOP fundraiser hosted by former Vice President Dick Cheney at his home in Wyoming.” Being in the same room does not make Cheney a top foreign policy adviser to Romney.
The truth is that the entire piece was simply a way to put the name one of the most maligned men in the history of American politics, Dick Cheney, together with Romney’s. Another truth is Obama’s Foreign Policy successes come almost entirely from his embracing of Bush-Cheney policies. And when it comes to Obama’s foreign policy, Americans are potentially half-way through the movie, and we are walking out. Spoiler alert: it does not leave any room for a happy ending.