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Why America's Republicans have No Foreign Policy (Gazeta, Russia)


"Instinctively, Romney would like to return to the world's former two-pole model, when everything was simple and clear. After all, today’s biggest challenge is the fuzzy strategic situation and the blurred frontlines. It isn't clear who is on your side, who is right or wrong - or rather, the trouble is that parties often switch sides. ... And even in the Republican camp, there is a tacit understanding that in the 21st century, betting on America's global dominance may simply be unaffordable."


By Fyodor Lukyanov*



Translated By Anastassia Tapsieva


August 31, 2012


Gazeta - Russia - Original Article (Russian)

Republican vice presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan: Does his selection indicate the declining importance of foreign policy within the Republican Party?


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The section of the Republican political platform devoted to Russia starts unexpectedly. “The heroism - and the suffering - of the people of Russia over the last century demand the world’s respect. As our allies in their Great Patriotic War, they lost 28 million fighting Nazism. As our allies in spirit, they ended the Soviet terror that had consumed so many millions more. They deserve our admiration and support as they now seek to reestablish their rich national identity.”


What follows are the usual assertions: a call to the Russian authorities to stop suppressing the opposition, media, and institutions of civil society; to end its “unprovoked” aggression against Georgia, to sever its alliances with “tyrants in the Middle East,” to end the pressure on its neighbors and support of “the last Stalinist regime in Belarus.”


“The Russian people deserve better,” specifically in order to join the ranks of the “modern democracies.” The Republicans intend to provide a constant climate favorable to trade, but only in conjunction with the Magnitsky Act.


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In addition to the special section (which, by the way, is longer than the single paragraph devoted to Europe), Russia is mentioned twice. Once on the list of the "most serious national security threats," to which the current administration has reacted to by “showing weakness.”


The platform discusses the spread of transnational terrorism, the continuing war-mongering of nuclear North Korea, Iran’s quest to acquire nuclear weapons, China’s growing hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, the threat of cyber-spying and cyber-terrorism, and “Russian activism.”


The second mention was on the Republicans’ favorite topic: Barack Obama’s unfortunate - and accidentally publicized - promise to Dmitri Medvedev to show more flexibility on anti-missile defense in the event he is reelected. The GOP platform, naturally, promises never to make deals behind backs of the American people for the sake of “appeasing” Russia.


The context is not particularly pleasant, but should be considered not in absolute terms, but relative ones. Thus, the 2008 platform (when John McCain was the candidate) had no kind words for Russia or Russians. There was nothing but condemnation for Russia's domestic political mores and aggressive politics toward its neighbors. The rhetoric of the 2012 document also differs somewhat from the statements of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has repeatedly called Russia “America's main geopolitical adversary,” which has perplexed not only his opponents, but his supporters as well.


Despite the relatively noticeable presence of Russian themes in the party platform and statements by the candidate, it is clear that in electoral terms, Russia is insignificant.


What really matters is not any particular issue, but the overall point of view on the role America plays - and should play - on the global stage. The chapter of the document devoted to foreign policy and national security has an eloquent title: American Exceptionalism. A similar chapter of the 2008 agenda had a less pretentious, more hands-on title: Defending Our Nation, Supporting Our Heroes, Securing the Peace. Perhaps because Republicans had been in the White House for almost eight years at that point, during which they lived through an attack on the United States and launched two wars, they had to find answers to very specific questions on the subject of security. Today, from the point of view of criticizing the Democratic administration, it is easier to indulge in the pathos of slogans.


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There is another explanation. Traditionally, one of the presidential pair has extensive foreign policy experience, or at least has an interest in foreign affairs. But this time around, neither Mitt Romney nor his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan can make such a claim.


Romney aligns himself with middle-of-the-road Republican notions from the late 20th and early 21st century, the arithmetic mean of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. There is little specificity - mainly the casting of spells about the need to re-establish unequivocal American greatness and to stop bemoaning its decline, which, in the opinion of the Republicans, is what Barack Obama is doing when he says he believes the U.S. should find common ground with the rising powers. Candidate Romney declares his rigidity and adherence to principle because this was a very successful U.S. approach relatively recently - less than a quarter century ago. That was the opening statement of the GOP platform: “We are the party of peace through strength ... We proudly associate ourselves with those Americans ... who, more than three decades ago in a world as dangerous as today’s ... announced their strategy in a timeless slogan we repeat today: peace through strength - an enduring peace based on freedom and the will to defend it ...”

Posted by Worldmeets.US


Hence, from this “image of the desired past” stems Mitt Romney’s aforementioned bias against Russia. Instinctively, the candidate would like to return to the world's former two-pole model, when everything was simple and clear. After all, today’s biggest challenge is the fuzzy strategic situation and the blurred frontlines. It isn't clear who is on your side, who is right or wrong - or rather, the trouble is that parties often switch sides. And even the possession of strength doesn't mean one understands how to apply it.


The choice of a vice presidential candidate is telling. As a rule, since the 1980s, politicians who have had the role have had significant authority when it comes to global affairs, i.e.: George Bush Sr., Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden. Paul Ryan has no clout in this sphere of influence, and his detractors assert that he is interested only in numbers and budget items. Ryan is a devoted believer in budget cuts, and considering the acuteness of the issue of the U.S. national debt, the topic will undoubtedly be used as a battering ram against Obama. So the central foreign policy question is whether budget cuts will affect the military sector.



The Republicans are usually happy to slash everything but the cost of national security. Romney belongs in this category: antimissile defense, for instance, is his sacred cow, because it is Reagan’s legacy.


His running mate comes across as a man who, naturally, will say whatever is necessary about American security, but is fundamentally removed from the matter and has no interest in it. The appearance of a vice presidential candidate who is indifferent to foreign policy is symptomatic (the last election and Sarah Palin are not indicative, because John McCain was a recognized authority in foreign affairs). Even in the Republican camp, there is a tacit understanding that in the 21st century, betting on America's global dominance may simply be unaffordable.


Foreign Policy magazine recently noted that even if Romney wanted to continue the tradition of a foreign-policy-aware vice president, he would not have had much of choice in terms of running mates. The "aces" in that sphere are gradually fading from the scene and leaving the stage to activists of a different sort. A good example would be the retirement of the legendary Senator Dick Lugar. He lost his Republican primary to a Tea Party extremist and is no longer in the race for the Senate. Ron Paul and his son Rand wield noticeable influence over the Republican debate. Ron Paul, a veteran of American politics with libertarian and isolationist leanings, fought Romney for the nomination until the end, while Rand is a rising Tea Party star. Some commentators, noting the declining interest of Republicans in foreign affairs, are talking about a relative provincialization of the party. If Romney wins, it will be possible to test the veracity of this claim in practice.


*Fyodor Lukyanov is Chief Editor for Russia in Global Affairs


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[Posted by Worldmeets.US Sept. 4, 8:59pm]



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