Commentary Magazine


Can Romney Exploit Obama’s Diplomatic Failures?

Politico reports the Romney campaign is about to pivot to foreign policy. There are many good reasons to do so, but those reasons do not include reacting to a series of leaks from foreign policy advisers trying to nudge Romney to pay more attention to the issue (what are they, Supreme Court justices?). Romney has to feel comfortable with his own outlook and ready to deliver a clear foreign policy message and be prepared for the various critiques that will come his way.

And while Obama has constructed a tough image on the world stage by blowing up anyone in the near vicinity of suspected terrorists and shipping prisoners to a Somali hell on earth instead of three-squares-a-day Guantanamo, Obama does have one glaring foreign policy weakness for Romney to exploit: the president’s comprehensive failure on diplomacy.

Romney can simply take a glance around the world and find a wealth of material to work with:

Asia. The president came into office with a ready-made free trade agreement with South Korea. George W. Bush got the deal done, but back then the Democratic Congress refused to pass pretty much anything with Bush’s name or fingerprints on it. (This was way back when the establishment media were less concerned about “civility” and congressional obstruction.) A huge benefit for Obama (especially for work he hadn’t done), the deal was a no-brainer. But the unions complained, as they do when someone threatens to practice capitalism, and Obama waited until the unions gave him permission to sign the bill, reopening negotiations along the way and forcing the South Koreans to wait.

Obama snubbed India–perhaps the most significant of George W. Bush’s diplomatic successes, endangering our relationship with an important ally. Obama’s initial attempt at diplomacy with the Burmese junta was a humiliating failure, and he began his term by telling China that human rights would now be placed firmly on the back burner, much to Beijing’s delight.

Europe. Obama’s every interaction with the British–from his shabby treatment of Gordon Brown, to his cringe worthy meetings with Queen Elizabeth, to his dismissal of the Churchill bust—has been brutal to watch, but none of those compares to the Obama administration’s refusal to support British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (which Obama called “the Maldives,” attempting to use the Argentine name for the islands, which he got wrong anyway).

And it’s not just that he capitulated to Russia by scrapping the missile shield plans for Poland and the Czech Republic, but he did so on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. Then, nursing a grudge with Polish democracy hero Lech Walesa, he denied Poland’s request that Walesa come to the White House to accept Jan Karski’s posthumous Medal of Freedom on Karski’s behalf while talking about “Polish death camps.” Which brings us to…

Russia. Obama may argue that U.S.-Russia relations are better than they were during the last years of the Bush administration. Romney should let him. Bush and Putin fell out over Russia’s invasion of Georgia and the post-war, meticulously documented campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Russian side on sovereign Georgian territory. Obama improved relations with Russia by dropping America’s demand that Russia comply with the ceasefire agreement and by strong-arming Georgia to drop its hold on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (the latter of which the administration admitted in May). The administration says Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil war in which Bashar al-Assad’s forces are massacring the opposition, and it continues to ask that Russia do something about it. Russia has not–but of course neither have we. Which brings us to…

The Middle East. Aside from the bloodshed in Syria, diplomacy with Iran hasn’t gone too well either. Obama proved to be an opponent of tougher sanctions, first by repeatedly trying to stall and prevent them from taking effect, and then watering them down when they get to his desk. Iran’s fist, needless to say, remains clenched.

Obama has quite obviously made a hash of things with Israel, though that was no surprise to those who followed the 2008 election. He hasn’t visited Israel, though he is sending his secretary of state–who famously berated Benjamin Netanyahu for 45 minutes when a housing committee announced that more Jewish homes would be built in a Jewish neighborhood of the Jewish state’s capital. Netanyahu, of course, had nothing to do with the announcement (it was aimed at embarrassing Netanyahu, not the U.S.) but hey, who has time for details when you’re conducting “smart diplomacy”?

I could go on, by talking about the administration’s buckling to environmentalists’ pressure over the Keystone pipeline deal with Canada, or Obama’s delaying tactics with regard to the free trade agreement with Colombia (another accomplishment gift-wrapped by Bush). But the point is that Obama has amassed quite a list of diplomatic failures—a list Romney is likely to carry with him on his foreign policy tour.

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