Election 2012

Obama and Romney 'Differ Sharply' on Middle East: One Is 'Cautious,' the Other 'Wary'

|

Since I recently wrote a column arguing that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have essentially the same foreign policy, I was intrigued by the headline over the right lead story in the national edition of today's New York Times, which claims "Obama and Romney Differ Sharply on Mideast Course." The online version of the article has a less startling headline ("Benghazi and Arab Spring Rear Up in U.S. Campaign") but still asserts that the two presidential candidates have "differing views" in the "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." How so? While "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," the Times reports, "Mr. Romney has stressed his wariness of the popular uprisings and vowed a more assertive approach to influencing their outcome." So Obama is cautious, while Romney is wary. Sharp differences!

One might question the adjectives used by the Times. Obama, the cautious candidate, unilaterally launched an illegal air war against Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, taking sides in that country's civil conflict with little idea of who the rebels were or what would happen in the aftermath of Qaddafi's fall. Presumably that was an example (along with the president's death-dealing drones?) of what the Times calls Obama's "soft touch" in the region. Romney, the wary candidate, criticized Obama for not acting more quickly in Libya and for ruling out the use of ground troops.

Romney takes a similar "me too, but more so" approach to Syria, saying the U.S. should directly arm the rebels fighing Bashar al-Assad's regime rather than doing so by proxy, which is Obama's current policy. According to the Times, the Obama administration worries that "it has too little sway over the direction of the insurgency, the influence of Islamist extremists, the potential that the weapons might be turned on neighbors like Israel or the likelihood of a sectarian blood bath." Romney, by contrast, sees providing weapons to the opposition as "a way of buying an American say in whatever comes next." In what sense does that position illustrate Romney's "wariness of the popular uprisings"?

Romney's criticism of Obama for sticking with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak too long also suggests something other than wariness. But surely Romney approves of Obama's approach to the new Islamist government in Egypt, where the president "has resisted attaching any conditions to the $1.5 billion in annual American aid…in order to preserve friendly relations and long-term influence." Although that sounds like Romney's argument for arming the Syrian rebels, he says Obama is wrong again, because he should cut aid whenever the Egyptian government makes a decision contrary to U.S. interests. It is almost as if Romney feels driven to criticize Obama no matter what position he takes.

Political candidates have a strong incentive to exaggerate small differences. Unfortunately, the press, which should be scrutinizing those claims instead of uncritically repeating them, also has a strong incentive to find differences instead of similarities, because the truth is not as exciting or dramatic as the fake debate. The truth is that Obama and Romney are barely distinguishable on foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, and their commonality has nothing to do with caution.

NEXT: Get Your Tix for the America's Future Foundation Leadership Dinner, Featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. For a second there I thought the headline said “One is ‘Cautious’ the other ‘Warty'”.

    1. Warty is Romney? Well, color me surprised.

      1. Racist!

    1. NO BLACK PERSON = RAAAAAAAACIST!

      1. Like we’d ever elect a black president.

    2. Jack Johnson: It’s time for someone who has the courage to stand up and say…[slams his fist on the podium]

      Jack Johnson: I’m against those things that everybody hates!

      John Jackson: Now, I respect my opponent. I think he’s a good man. But quite frankly… [slams his fist on the podium]

      John Jackson: I agree with everything he just said.

  2. If Romney wins will CBS go back to bodycounts on the evening news?

    1. More importantly, will they play Cop Killer?

  3. Obamney is black on the right side; Romama is black on the left.

  4. “Cautious or Wary”? I thought they were “Careful or Prudent”?

  5. One wants to bomb people who are brown, the other wants to bomb brown people. Isn’t the difference obvious?

  6. It seems both suffer from the same fundamental conceit: they think they can buy friends in the region.

    While there are certainly instances where one can buy friends, primarily where it concerns dealings with rational actors, the zealot cannot be bribed into peace. He may offer a truce for a time while reaping the rewards of such, but after the lucre that has been paid is sufficient enough for him to fortify his position, he will just as quickly renege on the money for peace arrangement.

    1. Shhhh! You might alarm the pacifists here with talk like that.

      1. Neither Bush nor Obama could be considered pacifists, but both are way too friendly with Islamist in my opinion.

        1. Appeasement combined with aggression. The worst of both worlds, I think.

          I prefer isolation in the presence of a credible American military threat. The problem with pacifism as a national stance is that it takes out that credibility. The problem with a credible threat is that sometimes one is forced to make good on it.

          The solution? Hell if I know.

          I’m not sure what, exactly, Obama or Romney are supposed to say.

          1. Appeasement combined with aggression. The worst of both worlds, I think.

            It couldn’t be said better than that.

  7. Question-

    Why was [insert network] interviewing RAHM FUCKING EMANUEL about Iran, yesterday morning? I admit to having forgotten much of what I learned about the function of our government, but just what the fuck exactly does the mayor of Chicago control in American foreign policy?

    1. Mouth-piece gotta mouth that piece, you know?

  8. You might alarm the pacifists here with talk like that.

    Keep stroking that warboner, pal.

    1. Blood is the best lube.

      1. I’m not sure who should respond to that. Barfman or Teenage Girl.

        1. Ewwwwww-barf-wwwwwww.

        2. Teenagebarfgirl: Ewwwwww-barf-wwwwww.

          1. So gross [barf].

    2. Pacifism is not the antonym of war.

      1. Re: BarryD,

        Pacifism is not the antonym of war.

        No, that would be “peace.”

        The antonym of “Pacifism” is “Government.”

      2. And there are very few pacifists on here, so you are burning a strawman. I can’t think of any non-anarchists who would oppose using force to actually defend the country from an attack.

        1. A marked unwillingness to deal with 21st century threats, as opposed to something like WW II, is certainly a common characteristic here.

          Not universal, but common.

          1. They may not be pacifists, but they are certainly ‘passivists’. They’re main method for dealing with real problems is to pretend they are not real ie faking reality.

            1. The big bang — took and shook the world
              Shot down the rising sun
              The end was begun — it would hit everyone
              When the chain reaction was done
              The big shots — try to hold it back
              Fools try to wish it away
              The hopeful depend on a world without end
              Whatever the hopeless may say

            2. They may not be pacifists, but they are certainly ‘passivists’.

              Sorry Cycho, not wanting to invade every country that looks at us funny isn’t quite the same as “passive”. Contrast that to your “nuke every place that doesn’t immediately roll over” preference.

              They’re main method for dealing with real problems is to pretend they are not real ie faking reality.

              No, we prefer to reserve our military might for people that are actually attacking our nation, not just looking at us funny. I’d hardly call name calling and funny looks to be “real problems”. You can’t point to any violence against us in the last 10 years that wasn’t entirely because our troops are occupying countries or otherwise randomly killing people with flying robots. Most of us here prefer to deal with “REAL problems”, not “create MORE problems”.

              1. Sorry, but which country did we recently invade merely because it “looked at us funny”?

                1. How many countries are we drone striking without declaring war, Overt?

            3. Yeah, or maybe they just don’t agree with you. You could be wrong, you know?

          2. A marked unwillingness to deal with 21st century threats, as opposed to something like WW II, is certainly a common characteristic here.

            Well, if you have a big hammer, the world is certainly full of nails.

            I think the unwillingness here is to commit acts of war in contexts where fighting a war may not be necessary. We have a somewhat narrower sense of when war is necessary, yes, founded on war as self-defense and an aversion to the State taking violent pre-emptive action in any context, foreign or domestic.

            1. “I think the unwillingness here is to commit acts of war in contexts where fighting a war may not be necessary.”

              Everybody says that. Well, almost.

              There’s little in the above post that someone reasonable can disagree with, because rules of thumb are always pretty easy.

              1. There’s little in the above post that someone reasonable can disagree with,

                Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find a way.

                There’s little in the above post that someone reasonable can disagree with, because rules of thumb are always pretty easy.

                Considering the only violence against us in the past 10 years have been against troops occupying overseas or diplomats in a country just through a revolution, rather than attacks on America itself, “an aversion to the State taking violent pre-emptive action in any context, foreign or domestic” isn’t too hard to figure out.

                1. Before you use the lack of violence on our shores as evidence of why we shouldn’t be engaged in our “foreign enterprises”, you have to deal with the obvious question: Can you prove the lack of attacks on our shores isn’t due to our more aggressive stance?

                  It’s a hard thing to prove.

                  1. Of course you can’t prove that. You are proposing an impossible standard. Can you prove that the aggressive stance has helped? Can you prove that the fact that I have never been attacked by a tiger is not because of the tiger repelling stone I carry in my pocket?

                    1. Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

                      Lisa: That’s spacious reasoning, Dad.

                      Homer: Thank you, dear.

                      Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

                      Homer: Oh, how does it work?

                      Lisa: It doesn’t work.

                      Homer: Uh-huh.

                      Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

                      Homer: Uh-huh.

                      Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

                      [Homer considers this.]

                      Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

          3. That may be true, but that is still not pacifism. Pacifism means you don’t get involved in war, period.

            1. Opposing any involvement in any war that may actually occur, for any reason that might actually exist, but saying that you would support a hypothetical war that will never actually happen, is also pacifism.

              Go ahead and be a pacifist, if you want.

              But bullshit just plain stinks.

              1. Straw argument is made of straw. If someone attacks us, that’s certainly an act of war. No one here has said we shouldn’t retaliate in such an instance. Your declaring that unlikely to happen doesn’t make our stance pacifist, nor do you provide any rational for why wars on the other side of the planet are our business at all.

                Wow, you’re right! Your bullshit DOES stink.

  9. The truth is that Obama and Romney are barely distinguishable on foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, and their commonality has nothing to do with caution.

    It has to do with the fact that they both share the same Wilsonian vision of the world and for the U.S. in it.

  10. When it comes to government spending, one is extravagant and the other is wasteful.

    Synonyms are fun!

    1. When it comes to the drug war, one is for the status quo and one is for staying on course!

    2. The correct adjective is “spendiferous.”

  11. I’m cautiously wary… or is that warily cautious?

  12. ” the Obama administration worries that “it has too little sway over the direction of the insurgency, the influence of Islamist extremists, the potential that the weapons might be turned on neighbors like Israel ”

    Really? So just what use will Egypt put the 20 advanced fighter planes that they have on order from the U.S. (our dime of course)??
    Galt forbid, Obama cancel the order and piss off our military industrial complex.

    1. So just what use will Egypt put the 20 advanced fighter planes

      (1) Suppressing domestic opposition, per Ghaddafi and Assad.

      (2) Attacking Israel or Libya.

      I can’t think of anything else. Why we should be underwriting any of that is a mystery to me.

      1. 3) pray for Holocaust II?

        http://www.timesofisrael.com/i…..-the-jews/

        1. Morsi mouths ‘Amen’ as Egyptian preacher urges ‘Allah, destroy the Jews’

          As long as they leave it to Allah, no problem.

          1. Except, we bankroll them. Big problem.

            1. Except, we bankroll them. Big problem.

              That’s why leaving it to ALLAH is no problem. They can just wait for him to step in. And wait, and wait, and wait….

              1. Sounds like the most boring stage production of Waiting for Godot ever even with the TNT strapped to the actors.

                1. You, sir, are the greatest author of stage productions, in the world!

                  + an awful lot.

    2. “Galt forbid, Obama cancel the order and piss off our military industrial complex.”

      Keep the order, hold them in trust for the upcoming free Syrian government.

      Sorry, I really tried to type that with a straight face.

  13. Reminds me a lot of the brouhaha over North Korean multilateral vs. unilateral talks in the 2004 election. Whatever the incumbent is for, the challenger has to be against. It’s all election year bullshit.

    1. Which was funny, because Bush talked tough, then gave them food, oil and money and whatnot – whereas the previous Donkey Party President talked mushy and gave them food, oil and money and whatnot.

  14. These two fucking empty suits don’t differ on any single thing that actually matters.

  15. One Is ‘Cautious,’ the Other ‘Wary’

    Let’s call the whole thing off.

  16. What accounts for the broad consensus in political leadership on foreign affairs? Of course one would expect that general trend in a democracy, candidates subject to election by a broad electorate and trying to capture their center, but it does seem to be true to an unusually high degree in foreign relations.

    Is it this way in other democracies too these days?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.