Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

‘Stark’ Differences between Obama and Romney on Libya and the Arab Spring: Foreign Debate Preview

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What are the ‘stark’ differences between the foreign policy of President Obama and of Governor Romney? Are they really that different?

LIBYA: According to the Boston Globe, who sourced both platforms, Libya entails the following controversy:


Obama initially resisted calls to aid rebels against Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy with a nofly zone, instead assembling a coalition before intervening last March. Instability continues, culminating in the assassination of the US ambassador in Benghazi last month.

Romney had criticized Obama’s aid of Libyan rebels as “tentative.” Since then, Romney has criticized the administration for failing to provide adequate security before the Benghazi attack and for initially partially blaming protests over an antiIslam video for the attack.

In rebuttal to these claims, during last week’s debate, President Obama gave a well received statement regarding the conservative punches his Administration had been receiving in light of the Libya developments. He said,

“As soon as we found out that the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on the phone with my national security team, and I gave them three instructions: beef up our national security, investigate what happened, and hunt them down.”

President Obama and Foreign Policy “Talking Points”:

  1. On May 2, 2011 Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid by special forces authorized by the President.“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda. … Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.” – President Barack Obama, announcing bin Laden’s death in East Room of the White House
  2. President Obama’s 2013 budget will cut military spending by $487 billion over 10 years; defense spending would continue to grow but at a slower rate. As his DNC speech, quoted below, states, US military officials are not in need of this amount of federal spending, and will therefore be used as an attempt to combat the impending deficit.
  3. Obama plans to withdraw US troops in 2014 from Afghanistan. And is confident in this strict deadline in hopes of the Afghan government taking responsibility for security aspects on their own.
  4. The Obama Administration is maintaining “sanctions against” Iran, although the Administration has not specified if or when the United States would take military actions should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.
Victoria Nulan, a State Department Representative, told the Washington Post that, “these are the most punishing sanctions we have ever been able to amass as an international community and they are very important for trying to get Iran’s attention on the important denuclearization work.”
The sanctions mentioned have been tied to the cause of the Iranian currency of rial to fall to 37,000 to 1 U.S. dollar.

At the DNC President Obama made the following statement:

“My opponent said it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. I have, and I will. And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work – rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways.”

President Obama, DNC 2012

Governor Romney and Foreign Policy “Talking Points” :

  1. Uphold and strengthen ally relationships around the world, including Israel. Romney has criticized Obama and claimed that his administration has abandoned one of the United State’s most important allies.
  2. Relations with rivals will be dealt with more harshly. Campaign ads have argued that Romney will deal with relations abroad more sternly than President Obama. (as he is quoted from the RNC below)
  3. He will stop military spending cuts as implemented by Obama and Mitt Romney wants to increase defense spending to 4 percent of GDP, estimated to mean an extra $2 trillion over 10 years.

At the RNC in Tampa Romney said the following, attacking Obama’s perceived lenient perspective on foreign policy:

“President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro’s Cuba. He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election. Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.”

 – Mitt Romney RNC 2012

Where the two agree:

  • National security issues pertaining to ending the War in Iraq, maintaining a U.S. Relationship with Pakistan, and the continued implementation of drones and special operations to battle Al Queda

In defense of Romney’s attack on Obama’s poor response to the recent Israeli development:

According to the Department of State, President Obama and his Administration will do the following:

For Fiscal Year 2012, the Administration requested more than $3 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history. These requests fulfill the Obama Administration’s commitment to implement the 2007 memorandum of understanding with Israel to provide $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years. Our funding commitment directly supports Israel’s security, as it allows Israel to purchase the sophisticated defense equipment it needs to protect itself, deter aggressors, and maintain its qualitative military edge.

Assistant to the Secretary of State, Andrew Shapiro November 2011

Key takeaways:

Both candidates are stretching. Each of them are turning the complex subject of foreign policy into a quotable, campaign-able and compartmentalized statements. The fact of the matter is, that by- and- large, there are no such “stark” differences amongst the candidates. Sure there are differences, but both candidates agree on a lot more foreign domestic policies than they differ.


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