Feb 21, 2011

Presidential aspirations fall short on foreign policy.

Potential GOP presidential frontrunners have levelled criticism towards the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama on all areas of policy. Some of this criticism is quite legitimate and should be taken seriously. It is true that, regardless of the quality of his reasons, President Obama is overseeing the largest federal budget deficit in history. However, these critics fail to acknowledge that the budget is merely proposed by the White House - it is actually crafted and passed into law by Congress.

One area where the White House does have power to shape policy is foreign affairs. The Obama Administration inherited a world thrown off balance by the pre-emptive military actions undertaken by the previous administration and by a prolonged economic downturn that has affected all corners of the globe.

This downturn has created instability in some of the emerging countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Iran and Libya. As demonstrations spread across the region, the president's policy has become clear - urge governments not to respond to legitimate protests with violence, but do not overtly support the overthrow of established regimes. In this way Obama has walked a fine line between supporting American allies in the region and supporting what appear to be pro-democracy protests.

Obama's potential opponents, however, have not fared as well and appear incoherent on Middle Eastern policy, torn between the pro-Israel neoconservative policies of the Bush Administration and the pseudo-isolationist paleoconservative policies of Republicans in the past.

Newt Gingrich was one of the first Republicans to publically fall on the foriegn policy sword, exclaiming that the Obama administration was 'amateurish' on Egypt while also claiming that the response raises trust issues with our allies, clearly coming out in opposition to emerging democracies in the Middle East. Gingrich widely supported the previous administration that sought to spread democracy in the Middle East through unprovoked attacks on the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Then Sarah Palin got in on the fun, picking up on a meme from the 2008 Democratic Primary claiming that Obama missed an important '3 am phone call' about the disorder in the Middle East. The faulty assumption that Palin and many others made about the Egyptian protest is that they were somehow connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow directly connected to today's terrorists that target western powers. This is what happens when you open your mouth and make a statement from a position of near-ignorance.

Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee both made the same mistake as Sarah Palin, convinced through what is at best ignorance, at worst racism, that all Muslim protesters in Egypt were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and that somehow constituted a threat to the United States. This could become a campaign issue - do we really want leaders who tilt at windmills? Does the Republican Party really want to nominate a candidate who knows so little about the Middle East and who makes inflamatory statements without checking their own facts?

The only GOP potential to respond in a remotely presidential manner on the Egypt affair was Mitt Romney, who withheld judgement and showed some diplomatic tact, even though he vaguely criticized Obama's foreign policies.

In the mean time, as a party, the GOP opposes international conflict resolution forums like the UN, opposes cooperative global nuclear disarmament and fails to present a coherent foreign policy at all - some candidates don't even grasp the basic geography of our planet - and their punditry is not improving their image.

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