Stopping at the Water’s Edge
With November a little over a year away, America is getting into gear for Campaign 2012. The second Republican primary debate is being held at the “temple of the Republican Party”- the Reagan Presidential Library- this Wednesday. Already, the major television networks are deploying their correspondents to the campaign battlefields to report on the first act of the election season, the primaries.
It’s expected to be a big campaign in terms of money raised and money spent. With the Robert’s Court having stripped away limits on campaign financing, estimates for the cost of becoming President of the United States after winning a party nomination is well above a billion dollars, and the primary campaign itself is no small expense.
With an incumbent President in the White House, the primary contest will be a Republican affair, and the candidates for the Republican Party nomination at the moment are a lackluster bunch. Similar to a rerun of the Republican primaries in 2008, Mitt Romney, running on the same platform but with the added road miles of campaigning unofficially since he lost the last primary, appears to have the most mileage so far and an edge in the polls. Ron Paul, the Texan libertarian, is making another unrealistic presidential run.
Sarah Palin so far has not announced, but her views are shaping the Republican debate. Newcomers include Michelle Bachman, a Congressman from Minnesota, who has tried to position herself as the serious Tea Party candidate, but with social conservative credentials. Governor Rick Perry of Texas has thrown his hat in the ring with the platform of being a social and fiscal conservative longer than any of the candidates, and so far, he represents the most serious challenge to the former Governor of Massachusetts and successful businessman, Mitt Romney.
Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah and Obama’s most recent envoy to China, appears to have sizable credentials, but not the conservative appeal that Perry and Romney have. He has made the stinging point that his fellow candidates are not electable. Without any new additions to the fold, Huntsman’s prediction may turn out to be true.
Except Huntsman, none of the candidates has foreign policy experience and they appear not to be worried about this point at the moment. With the economy still in recovery, a sizeable deficit, and a comparably high unemployment rate (9.1% percent with no new jobs in August), the number one issue for most Americans is the economy, not foreign policy. For Obama as well, it’s the economy that he is the most vulnerable and his ratings reflect this (42% approval in a Quinnipiac University poll).
When the candidates do speak about foreign policy, particularly, the Arab Spring, it’s a very confused message of support and disapproval of Obama’s foreign policy, but without any alternative vision. The verbal gaffes that have emerged as well on foreign policy by many of the candidates, notably Herman Cain, have kept them from stepping their feet too far into the water. Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq- all important topics to discuss- have largely escaped the primary campaign trail.
With the reality of campaign 2012 focusing on domestic issues, its likely foreign policy will receive a pass, but unfortunately, at the moment, when the United States is involved in three state building projects, witnessing the breakdown of their security architecture in the Middle East, facing a shift of power to the East, and having less resources to achieve its foreign policy objectives, there is not a more serious debate occurring on the campaign trail.
Obama’s foreign policy also warrants a further examination. While the President has sought to rhetorically rebrand the United States’ image in the world, particularly, in the Arab world, Obama has not made any progress on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and has largely reacted more than acted when it has come to the Arab Spring. The United States as a result is facing a significant challenge to its interests in the Middle East, and the President has yet to show much leadership or vision. Unfortunately, his potential opponents in the Republican Party appear less qualified or able to face these issues.
In the short term then, it may be better that “all politics is local” but in the long-term, America needs to begin a serious conversation about its changing role in the world, particularly in the Middle East where its moment appears to be fading.