On Foreign Policy, Obama and the GOP Find Room for Agreement

On Foreign Policy, Obama and the GOP Find Room for
Op-Ed The Washington Post
In spite of the general perception that partisanship is dividing the U.S. government, a broad bipartisan consensus is emerging on issues of foreign policy, particularly towards Afghansitan, Iraq, and Iran.
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Unnoticed amid the wailing about "broken government," a broad bipartisan consensus is emerging in one unlikely area: foreign policy. On Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran -- the most expensive and potentially dangerous foreign challenges facing the United States -- little separates the Obama administration from most Republican leaders in and out of Congress. A substantial majority of Republicans has supported President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. Both the administration and the Republican opposition are committed to a stable, increasingly democratic Iraq. On Iran, differences have narrowed as engagement gives way to pressure on what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls the "military dictatorship" in Tehran. And Republicans have to admit that Obama's prolonged effort at engagement accomplished what George W. Bush never could: convincing most of the world, including most Democrats, that Iran does not want any deal that threatens its nuclear weapons program. Partisan divisiveness will return only if the administration backs down from its own stated objectives.

Perfect bipartisanship on foreign and defense policy is a lot to ask in an election year, and Republicans have a right, even an obligation, to be critical of policies they regard as dangerous. But there is more agreement today than usual. Never mind the divisive decades of the Bush and Clinton administrations. Democrats who look back fondly to the days of George H.W. Bush forget that they voted overwhelmingly against the Persian Gulf War and attacked that administration for paying too much attention to foreign policy. Today, by contrast, the administration and opposition largely agree on some of the most pressing issues. By historical standards, foreign policy is one area where the government is working.

How to explain the surprising comity? Partly it is because the Democrats have changed in power. Being in opposition for many years tends to breed irresponsibility, as both parties have shown over the past two decades. Obama's team took office assuming that it should do the opposite of whatever Bush did or said, and the policy of "un-Bush" dominated the first months, just as "un-Clinton" shaped the early Bush years. But "un-" policies are no substitute for serious thinking. On most issues the Obama administration is now pursuing approaches closer to those of both Clinton and Bush than those favored by the virulently anti-Bush partisans. This is not surprising, since neither American interests nor the interests of other nations change with the American electoral cycle.

There are larger forces at work, too, above all Sept. 11's lingering effects on the American psyche. Obama officials at first celebrated their abandonment of the "war on terror," seeing it as a Bush-era mistake and, rhetorically at least, placed more emphasis on righting legal wrongs done to captured terrorism suspects than on stopping terrorist attacks. The irony is that Obama has been fighting the war on terror at least as vigorously as his predecessor. He escalated the war in Afghanistan and greatly increased drone attacks on suspected terrorists in Pakistan.

The fact is, no president can allow himself to be perceived as trading any degree of American security to better protect the rights of suspected terrorists. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt countenanced far more egregious violations of individual rights when security interests were perceived to be at stake. It was predictable that whatever Candidate Obama promised, President Obama would be compelled to take a tough line on terrorism. So Guantanamo remains open and may stay open for the remainder of Obama's presidency. Khalid Sheik Mohammed will probably not be tried in New York. After the Christmas Day bomber was taken into custody, more people have been put on watch lists. The USA Patriot Act has been renewed. Obama has probably learned not to provide Republicans new opportunities to exploit his weakness in these areas.

For Republicans, meanwhile, the ongoing effect of Sept. 11 has been to check isolationist tendencies that have periodically flared in the party since the 1920s. Most Republicans today don't believe there is safety to be found in a Fortress America and reject even more modest calls for a retrenchment of U.S. involvement overseas.

As a result, we may be seeing the reestablishment of the informal and unspoken alliance between liberal interventionist Democrats and hawkish internationalist Republicans that provided working majorities throughout much of the Cold War and again during the Clinton years. In the 1990s, Joseph Biden was a card-carrying member of this coalition, which supported Clinton's policies in the Balkans, NATO expansion and the strategy of "democratic enlargement." The coalition exploded over its support for the Iraq war, but Biden's willingness to take ownership of Iraq today may be a signal that the pendulum is swinging back again.

Obama has a chance to place himself at the head of this broad spectrum of opinion, and he would serve both himself and the country well by doing so. Today's consensus can be expanded beyond fighting terrorism and confronting Iran. There is strong bipartisan support for a firmer stand toward China, for closer ties to India, a more balanced approach to Russia, and a firmer commitment to democratic allies in Eastern and Central Europe. Nothing would do more to cement bipartisan support for Obama's foreign policies than a return to the old American tradition of making the world safer for democracy.

At a time when America's ability to lead is questioned at home and abroad, bipartisan unity on these major issues can strengthen America in its dealing with friends and with adversaries. Despite what our declinists believe, and thanks in part to the election of Obama, more and more people around the world are looking to the United States to play that leadership role again.


A longer version of this essay appears in Foreign Policy magazine.

End of document
Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/03/05/on-foreign-policy-obama-and-gop-find-room-for-agreement/jq2

In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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