Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Republicans and Foreign Policy

About a month or two ago--I never saved the article--Real Clear World ran an article on the foreign policy experts advising the candidates. The only one to have many names I recognized was then frontrunner and establishment favorite Mitt Romney. He had three names I recognized: Richard Haass, Stephen Hadley, and Mitchell Reiss. Richard Haass was/is an expert on regional conflicts especially the Arab-Israeli conflict and Northern Ireland. He served as a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council in the George H W Bush administration. For Dubya he served as the first American envoy to Northern Ireland, where he played a major role in convincing Gerry Adams that the IRA was actually disarm. Upon leaving there he took up a position with the Council on Foreign Relations that puts out the establishment Foreign Affairs magazine. Stephen Hadley served as Condi Rice's assistant at the National Security Council and then took over during Dubya's second term as National Security Advisor to George Bush. Mitchell Reiss was an expert on nuclear proliferation and a country expert on North Korea. When Haass left Belfast for New York, Reiss became his successor as American envoy. Reiss recently wrote a book exploring the question of when terrorist movements should be co-opted by negotiation and power sharing and when they should be shunned.

Perry relies on figures that he met while serving as governor of Texas. I did not recognize any names. The other candidate who had some recognizable names is Ron Paul. Paul has Leon Hadar, a former journalist working for the Jerusalem Post and the author of two books on American policy in the region, Sandstorm and Quagmire. He advocates an American military and political disengagement from the region. The opinion would be considered mainstream in the Democratic Party but is unsaleable to the Republicans. Because Paul is a libertarian running in a conservative party--a square peg in a round hole--he has no chance of being nominated.

Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and American ambassador to China, basically serves as his own foreign policy advisor. He was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan as a young man, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, and is quite knowledgeable about trade matters and economic policy. But he registers at about two percent in the polls and is betting his whole future on New Hampshire, where he will have to compete with Romney, the other Mormon.

So far foreign policy, as distinct from immigration, has hardly registered in the Republican debates. The party is agitated by economic and social policies: abortion, immigration, health care, tax levels and debt. By slowly withdrawing from Iraq and continuing to oversee the assassination of leading Al Qaeda figures around the Middle East, Obama has effectively removed terrorism as a major political issue. Democrats still debate the American presence in Afghanistan; Republicans do not. It is almost a repeat of Vietnam forty years ago, but with the roles of the two parties reversed. The Democrats got us involved in Vietnam and then Nixon oversaw the withdrawal and the GOP spent twenty years talking about the Democrats as the party that was unreliable on national security. Maybe the Democrats can do the same about the Republicans for the next twenty years.

Should Perry or someone else other than Romney end up as the nominee, he (or she) can inherit the establishment foreign policy advisors by default. After all, Kissinger was never a Nixon advisor in the 1960s. He was a Nelson Rockefeller advisor whom Nixon inherited after he won the election in 1968. Obama inherited Clinton's stable of foreign policy advisors once he named her as his secretary of state. But he could have done so even without naming her--anyone who wanted to serve in government in a senior position had nowhere else to go in the short term. 

In American politics the conservatives determine who the Republican nominee is; the progressives determine who the Democratic nominee is. It is then up to the independents, who rarely vote based on foreign affairs, to determine which party's foreign policy establishment serves in office.

As a postscript let me add that on Friday Oct. 7, 2011 Romney gave his first foreign policy address of the race. Here is a link to a commentary on it. (See the article by  James Joyner in the Atlantic on the Sat. Oct. 8 panel.)                        )

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