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Foreign Policy Debate Briefing

Here is some of the best articles from around the web preparing you for tonight's final Presidential debate:

David Kirkpatrick, New York Times:

When people here talk about American politics, many look to the sky, where the buzz of surveillance drones has grown heavy since last month’s deadly assault on the United States mission in this city in eastern Libya.

“Give it a rest, Obama,” one resident posted in a Twitter message on Saturday morning, after a low-flying drone woke much of the city. “We want to get some sleep.”

The drones are a vivid reminder that Benghazi has become the focal point of a fierce debate over what role the United States should seek to play in shaping the new order emerging from the revolts of the Arab Spring, an issue that is expected to be a flash point in Monday night’s foreign policy debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama.

Yet Benghazi has entered the American political lexicon with contradictory meanings.

To Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, the city has become shorthand for the growing threat to the United States from Islamist militants — and what Romney advisers call the Obama administration’s “passivity” in the face of the menace. To President Obama, Benghazi is also the place where moderate Islamists took up arms to defend American diplomats from extremists, a democratically elected president rushed to express his solidarity with Washington and thousands turned out to demand the rule of law and mourn an American envoy.

The candidates’ differing views encapsulate their approaches to both the Arab Spring and the nature of American power. Mr. Obama has emphasized cautious restraint, out of philosophical support for Arab demands for self-governance and out of a conviction that events in the region are largely beyond American control. Mr. Romney has stressed his wariness of the popular uprisings and vowed a more assertive approach to influencing their outcome.

That disagreement in many ways mirrors the paradoxical views of America held by many of the region’s people and policy makers, who see Washington as all-powerful but also doomed to self-sabotage whenever it intervenes there.

Greg Sargent, Washington Post:

Throughout this campaign, Obama has frequently invoked Bush’s economic policies to argue that a Romney presidency would take us back to an approach that landed us in the mess we’re still digging our way out of four years later. That’s had mixed results, given that polls still show Obama and Romney tied on the economy — or a Romney edge.

But it may be a lot tougher for Romney to escape Bush’s shadow tonight, when the debate turns to foreign policy. That’s because Romney’s business background gives him a way to present himself as an alternative to Obama and Bush on the economy. When it comes to foreign policy, Romney will be harder pressed to present himself as an alternative to both presidents.

Indeed, in tonight’s debate, Obama’s message will be simple:

1) We got Osama Bin Laden

2) We’re ending Bush’s wars

3) Mitt Romney’s got nothing but more Bush bluster

The pairing of those first two points may prove powerful, since it combines a major national security success with the ending of an unpopular war. Romney, meanwhile, will make the case that Obama is a weak and ineffective leader who has damaged America’s standing in the world. He’ll point to the Libya attacks, and he’ll argue that he will be tougher than Obama has been in preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, to bolster that argument.

The right remains fully convinced that the events in Libya are just the club Romney needs to shatter Obama’s glass jaw on foreign policy. There are certainly legitimate outstanding questions to be answered about the administration’s shifting explanations for the attacks, and more broadly about what the attacks say about Obama’s policies in the region. And polls suggest Romney has gained a good deal of ground in foreign policy as the race has tightened.

Amir Taheri, New York Post:

As he runs for re-election, President Obama has tried to portray his foreign policy as a success. A closer look suggests a different picture.

Let us begin with a list of areas where US foreign policy has either stalled or suffered setbacks.

Encouraged by a perceived weakness on the part of the Obama administration, Russia has cast itself as an adversary, adopting an aggressive profile in regions of vital US interest. A clear signal in Moscow’s change of attitude has come with the installation of S400 missiles close to the Caspian Basin and of long-range missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave next to Poland.

 

For its part, China has sped up its military buildup and flexed its muscles against Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam. Beijing has also accelerated the building of a blue-water navy to challenge the US in the Pacific and Indian oceans. And, by undervaluing its currency, China has continued what amounts to low-intensity economic warfare.
 
Efforts on North Korea have faded away, as Pyongyang pursues its quest for a nuclear arsenal with impunity.
 
Iran? The facts speak for themselves. On Obama’s watch, Iran has increased its uranium-enrichment capabilities more than tenfold and hardened its defiant rhetoric. The mullahs are also pursuing an aggressive policy in Syria, while doing as much mischief as they can in Bahrain.

US relations with Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East, are at low ebb with Obama’s decision to snub the Israeli prime minister during the latter’s visit to New York.

In the “Arab Spring” countries, Obama started by supporting the beleaguered despots (especially in Egypt), and then abandoned them without forming alliances with new emerging forces. As a result, the United States is regarded as a fickle friend by some and an unprincipled power by others.

In Europe, lack of clarity in Obama’s policies has left the US no longer consulted even on crucial economic issues. And for all his promise to make the oceans recede, Obama has failed to provide the leadership needed to bring the allies together on environmental issues. Even the minimum accords negotiated by the Bush administration have been put on the backburner.

Hopes of reforming such international institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, not to mention the United Nations itself, have faded. Lack of US leadership has also led to an impasse in the Doha round of global free-trade negotiations.

In Latin America, the anti-American bloc led by Venezuela and Cuba has won new adherents in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua; even Argentina is adopting “anti-Yankee” accents. Meanwhile, efforts to unite the region’s pro-American nations, partly through free trade, have been dropped under pressure from Obama’s union supporters.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Jounral:

In the 1967 film "A Guide for the Married Man," a husband, played by a peerless Walter Matthau, is given lessons in ways to cheat on his wife safely. The most essential rule: "Deny! Deny! Deny!"—no matter what. In an instructive scene, he's shown a wife undone by shock, and screaming, with reason: She has just walked in on her husband making love to a glamorous stranger.

"What are you doing," she wails, "who is that woman?"

"What woman, where?" the husband serenely counters, as he and the tart in question get out of bed and calmly dress.

So the scene proceeds, with the distraught wife pointing to the woman she clearly sees before her, while her husband, unruffled, continues to look blankly at her, asking, "What woman?" Confused by her spouse's unblinking assurance, she gives up. Two minutes later she's asking him what he'd like for dinner.

For much of the past four years, the Obama administration's propensity for asserting views of reality wildly at odds with those evident to most rational citizens has looked increasingly like a page from that film script.

All administrations conceal, falsify and tell lies—this is understood—but there's no missing the distinctive quality of the prevaricating issuing from the White House in these four years.

It's a quality on vivid display now in the administration's mesmerizing narrative of the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Here's a memorable picture, its detail brutally illuminating, of Obama and company in crisis mode over their conflicting stories about who knew what when. The resulting costs to truth-telling and sanity, or even the appearance thereof, are clear. Nor can we forget the strong element of farce—think U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on those five Sunday talk shows, reciting with unflagging fervor that official talking point regarding mob violence and a YouTube video. Farce, but no one is laughing.

Team Obama clung to its original story—the attack had come spontaneously at the hands of a mob enraged by that now famous video insulting to the Prophet—long after it was clear that it had been an organized terrorist assault by an al Qaeda affiliate. By Tuesday's debate, we saw a Barack Obama in high dudgeon over suggestions that his office might have deliberately misrepresented the facts. It was, he fumed, an intolerable insult that such charges could have been made about him, the president who had had to receive the bodies of the slain Americans—and who then had to set about getting to the bottom of this murderous terror assault.

Profound and urgent concerns indeed—which, the president neglected to say, had not prevented him from jetting off to his fundraiser in Las Vegas the day after the murders. His administration was not given to politicizing serious matters, the president sternly informed the nation in that second debate: "That's not what we do."

Good to know. Americans might otherwise have gotten the wrong impression in the past four years, not least from Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the most openly politicized Justice Department in the nation's history. Among his more recent noteworthy pronouncements, this one relevant to the coming election, Mr. Holder declared that photo ID requirements intended to prevent voting fraud were nothing less than a "poll tax." He was referring to an infamous institution from the days of Jim Crow, whose aim was to suppress black voting. Mr. Holder—so famously fastidious about group sensibilities that he has never been able to bring himself to utter any description identifying a terrorist as Muslim—has apparently had no inhibitions about smearing whole segments of the population as racists.

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commented 2013-12-21 19:00:12 -0500 · Flag
Thank you