Lindsay: Dismaying foreign policy answers at GOP debate
November 10th, 2011
05:42 PM ET

Lindsay: Dismaying foreign policy answers at GOP debate

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Jim Lindsay. 

By James M. Lindsay

Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate was primarily about the domestic economy. But it started off on a foreign policy note when lead moderator Maria Bartiromo asked what the United States should do to ensure that Italy’s mounting economic woes “do not take down  the U.S. financial system.” The responses were dismaying. Herman Cain said “we must grow the economy,” Mitt Romney said Europeans should “take care of their own problems,” Ron Paul talked about the need to “liquidate” debt, and Jon Huntsman worried that the United States has six banks that are “too big to fail.”

Why are these answers dismaying? Because they suggest that the GOP candidates are either hankering for a past that no longer exists, don’t understand the severity of the eurozone crisis, or don’t have any answers (at least ones they would share with voters) for addressing the crisis. There once was a day when things over there didn’t matter to life over here. But that day is long gone.

Globalization, a process that both Republicans and Democrats have championed, means that financial markets are interconnected. If the eurozone collapses, the effects would ripple across the Atlantic, potentially becoming an economic tsunami. The losers wouldn’t just be bankers on Wall Street, but everyone on Main Street who has a 401(k) or an IRA. It’s not too much to hope that presidential candidates would have a clear idea on how to respond to a threat that could stop the American economy in its tracks.

Foreign policy came up again toward the end of the debate. A question about the wisdom of having a Chinese company build part of the Bay Bridge connecting Oakland and San Francisco eventually led to Mitt Romney blasting Chinese trade policy:

China is playing by different rules. One, they are stealing intellectual property. Number two, they’re hacking into our computer systems, both government and corporate. And they are stealing, by virtue of that as well, from us.

And finally, they are manipulating their currency, and by doing so, holding down the price of Chinese goods, and making sure their products are artificially low-priced. It’s predatory pricing, it’s killing jobs in America.

If I’m president of the United States, I’m making it very clear, I love free trade. I want to open markets to free trade. But I will crack down on cheaters like China. They simply cannot continue to steal our jobs.

A President Romney would “crack down” on Beijing by labeling “China a currency manipulator” and applying tariffs “to make sure that they understand we are willing to play at a level playing field.” Romney, of course, has been hitting this theme for a while. It’s not one typically heard at Republican presidential debates; it would have been unthinkable for a GOP presidential candidate to make this argument just four years ago.

The more traditional Republican argument was made by Jon Huntsman who said that Romney’s  anti-China rhetoric was “pandering” to the voters and that Romney’s proposed actions would trigger a “trade war” that would hurt Americans. Huntsman admitted, though, that the U.S. relationship with China has been “troublesome and problematic” for forty years. His preferred solution was hardly inspiring, or even clear:

We’re just going to have to keep doing business the way we’ve always done, is sit down, you find solutions to the problems, and you move forward. It isn’t easy. It isn’t glamorous. It’s grinding it out the way we’ve done for 40 years. And for 40 more years, we’re going to have to do it the same way.

Don’t be surprised if Romney and Huntsman revisit this issue at Saturday night’s debate. The fact is both candidates are right. Many Chinese trade and currency policies are predatory, and trying to punish those practices could hurt an already fragile U.S. recovery. So you are left with a tough policy question: how do you get China to end its predatory practices without triggering retaliation that imposes significant costs on the U.S. economy?

Romney has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on Iran. He accuses Obama of a “shameful abdication of moral authority” by failing to side with the protesters during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution. Romney says he will offer a “different policy”:

Si vis pacempara bellum. That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war.

I want peace. And if I am president, I will begin by imposing a new round of far tougher economic sanctions on Iran. I will do this together with the world if we can, unilaterally if we must. I will speak out forcefully on behalf of Iranian dissidents. I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option. I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. I will increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region. These actions will send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Only when the ayatollahs no longer have doubts about America’s resolve will they abandon their nuclear ambitions.

The problem with this formulation–besides the fact that unilateral American sanctions won’t do much of anything - is that the United States could do all the things that Romney suggests and still not dissuade Iran from going nuclear. Tehran might believe that all of Romney’s proposed measures are just huffing and puffing, or that a U.S. military strike will set its program back only temporarily. That may be a misguided conclusion, but history is rich with examples of countries misperceiving their opponents.

Besides contributing to the Journal, Romney issued a statement criticizing Obama for his open mic comments about Benjamin Netanyahu:

President Obama’s derisive remarks about Israel’s prime minister confirm what any observer would have gleaned from his public statements and actions toward our longstanding ally, Israel. At a moment when the Jewish state is isolated and under threat, we cannot have an American president who is disdainful of our special relationship with Israel. We have here yet another reason why we need new leadership in the White House.

HarperCollins has announced that it will release a new Romney biography entitled “The Real Romney” in January 2012—just as campaign season hits full speed. The authors are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, two investigative reporters for the Boston Globe.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Jim Lindsay.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Foreign Policy

soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. mac roeconomics

    @oglethorpe-Yeah I get it, like I said, expensive. Let's just assume that some of that billion a day is really incremental due to the war (some surely is... more fuel, combat pay, artillery). That billion a day is stimulative to the economy...more pay to soldiers, consumption of more goods. These things don't directly hurt the economy they help in the immediate term. What they hurt is the US government's balance sheet which may eventually hurt the economy if it is not improved. Fool.

    November 10, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Reply
    • RevHellhorn

      That worked out really well for the once and former Soviet Union, laboring against the decreased multiplier of military vs. civilian expenditures eventually sucked them dry. Among other factors, of course.

      November 10, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  2. mac roeconomics

    Oh and by brushfire I meant relative to a major war that disrupted global consumption and trade..

    November 10, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  3. SHOWmeTHEmoney

    I don't think Obama has anything to worry about. These guys are not Presidential Material.

    November 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  4. Jim

    Remember when Sarah Palin identified North Korea as our ally, things have only gone downhill with this group since then. Believe it or not.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  5. Mark

    Frankly, Ron Paul is the only one out there that has answers that are realistic, and he isn't going to get elected. He is not an isolationist, he wants to bring the military home. Big difference. He's been consistently talking about these issues for over 30 years and many of the events he's been predicting have come to pass. People like to ridicule him, and he DOES look funny, but I'm more inclined to trust someone who's been proven right so many times no matter how "odd" some of his ideas may sound. The rest of the crowd, Republican or Democrat, say things that may sound "normal" but haven't worked yet. More of this same old B.S. isn't going to get us anywhere. Time to acknowledge that and trying something different.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Reply
    • Paul

      Absolutely right. Not that CNN will ever report anything Ron Paul says or does. Why do you think that is?

      November 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  6. Deland

    There is nothing you can do to protect America from Italy and Greece's debt problems. Would the author prefer to be comforted with a reassuring lie that the government can protect America's economy in this globalized environment? The problem is the neoclassical school of thought on economics. Global debt has global impacts on the economy. Depreciating values for stocks and bonds are just a correction to the current inflationary nature of global markets due to the practice of Chicago school of economics worldwide. Debt must be paid eventually. Debt cannot be ignored forever. Every lesson being learned by our Greek and Italian counterparts, apply to America. The only difference is, we have more time before we default. There is no question of if we will. It's only a matter of when we will.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  7. Deland

    Media will dictate who people pay attention to. Use your own mind and research the candidates policies and positions on the issues. Stop looking for the candidate that looks and seems like "President Material". I wish people would stop categorizing people and look past party ideologies on the important issues.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Reply
    • johnny

      CNN is afterall also another media, and their directors are probably poltically motivated people too. Let's just read everything inside CNN, like you should have with Newscorp International. With a pinch of salt.

      November 13, 2011 at 2:43 am | Reply
  8. Steve Brinkhoff

    With some notable exceptions, it's nice to read a group of thoughtful comments by people who have some awareness of the issues. Thanks.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  9. pmcdonald

    testing testing 123

    November 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Reply
  10. mac roeconomics

    @Rev Hellhorn – I agree investment in military capital has no multiplier effect and is a poor use of resources if it can be avoided. Too bad most of that capital existed prior to the wars. The application of that capital in war is still stimulative. Even if the USSR collapsed and Keynesian democrats dislike the wars and the bad economy.

    November 10, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  11. Dane

    Sounds like the typical globalist rhetoric we can expect from someone on the Council of Foreign Relations.

    November 10, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  12. Stryker Nexus

    America has long been a historic land of intellectuals. Now it's time for intellectuals who merit every attention to take the lead. America should reclaim its glory of being the truly free society, the first democracy and the beacon of hope, and leadership for the world just by putting intellect at the forefront than celebrities.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:47 am | Reply
  13. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Hey just think. When the republicans regain power, they will start a war with Iran (totally unfunded of course). Then we can draft all the Poor people to fight (die) in the war (just like republicans want) and we can give "no bid" contracts to the rich people. Killing two birds with one stone!! We can use Iran's oil to pay for the war. And when the war is over, Iran will sell us cheap oil!! Just like Iraq!!!!.........Oh wait......Never mind.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply
  14. W. Jaffrey

    This guy is living in a closet if he thinks we can bury ourselves in more debt to bail out the eu. But this kind of single-mindedness on government having every trick up its sleeve and action supposedly bearing the least consequence is the kind of nonsense that passes for intellectual commentary these days.

    November 11, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  15. Paul

    Don't be afraid of what the banks tell you to print Lindsay, you can write about Ron Paul's Foreign Policy stance as well. I can sum it up very quickly: NO Bases Overseas....period. Only militarily intervene in a country that is attacking, or about to attack, America. All foreign issues handled diplomatically. US OUT of NATO. Think of the money we can save–heck we can start to pay off the $15 trillion debt. Wait–the banks don't want that, do they?

    November 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  16. Eddy4

    It's funny how little CNN will cover of Ron Paul, the only honest politician up there. He told it to us straight at the debate (and for the last 30 years), but no one wants to listen, they want to continue to live in the fantasy land that a deficit is alright. It is not alright and will be the downfall of this country.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Reply
  17. Nathaniel

    People people! Please... Economics 101. Organizations that make fatal mistakes fail, eliminating waste and inefficiency and creating opportunity and improvement for others. (Does anyone wish we still had Venture instead of Walmart??) If you bail out banks, Eurozone countries, central banks, investment firms, auto manufacturers, etc.. all you are doing is "building in" waste and inefficiency that will fester and drag down the economy in the long run and possibly end up failing anyway. Unfortunately most sheeple don't understand these fairly simple concepts. Ron Paul does though! Ron Paul would allow investment banks and insurers that made rampant poor decisions fail as a result of their own choices.... and let the business owner that builds an empire keep the fruits of his labor..... and through free markets help the USA become the industrial powerhouse it once was, creating jobs and strengthening the "middle class". Read up on Ron Paul and make your own choice!

    November 12, 2011 at 3:55 am | Reply
  18. johnny

    CNN is after another media, and the directors are probably poltically motivated people too. Just read everything insidet CNN, like you should have with Newscorp International. With a pinch of salt.

    November 13, 2011 at 2:41 am | Reply
  19. johnny

    Dont underestimate GOP's oldsters, they are very good at carpet bombing when given the slightest opportunity. I would be badly let down if they become Government and there isnt a Vietnam or Iraq scale war on GOP's horizon. They have to look after their special interet group of billionaires and millinaires, remember?

    Hmmm.. where would they bring another war to next time ? Iran? But definitely not China, because China has more friends and allies than US has 🙂

    November 13, 2011 at 2:49 am | Reply
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