I’ll be honest, I’m just not that into foreign policy.  The only reason I’ll be watching the debate tonight is out of professional responsibility (otherwise I’d watch the DVR of last night’s “Walking Dead”).  Of course, Ezra explains why I’m all wrong about this and that foreign policy and domestic policy is ultimately a false distinction.  But the way we treat it, I just am not all that interested in the foreign side.  I think part of my malaise on the matter is reflected in what Bill Ayres (not to be confused with the “domestic terrorist”) has to say:

A large part of this is because both candidates will be forced, of political necessity, to repeat the American Exceptionalism mantra. There was an excellent article about this inSunday’s New York Times, which is well worth reading. The author focuses more on domestic policy and our foolish tendency to think that America is better than everywhere else at everything (to the point that some folks simply make stuff up to support that contention).

Nowhere is the disease of American Exceptionalism worse than in the arena of foreign policy. Without argument, discussion, or debate our politics over the last 10+ years have shifted to a new consensus in foreign policy:

• That the United States is the most powerful nation on the planet (true, at least militarily), possibly in all of history (arguable, but largely beside the point – like trying to decide whether the Babe Ruth Yankees were better than the A Rod version of recent years).

• That the existence of terrorism means that the US should involve itself in anything that smells of terrorism or Al Qaeda, wherever in the world it may be.

• That when bad things happen in other places, it’s the US’s responsibility to make them better (e.g. Libya, Syria), unless it’s in an area so obscure that we really don’t care (eastern Congo?) This is closely aligned with the ever-popular Peter Parker Principle(“With great power comes great responsibility.”)

This isn’t a strategy, it’s a recipe for blind imperial overstretch (to borrow Jack Snyder‘s term). Particularly galling is that we’ve arrived at this position without the slightest scintilla of public debate. Foreign policy is decided by a small elite in Washington, without significant comment from outside. We have fallen into the trap that Eisenhower warned of some 50 years ago.

Yowza.  Quite the indictment.  Not sure I fully agree with all of it, but it’s a provocative case and Bill certainly knows more about this stuff than me.  On a practical level, I really enjoyed Tomasky’s take:

 Romney is going to lie like crazy, like he did in the first debate, trying to Etch a Sketch away 18 months’ worth of war-mongering neocon statements and positions.

What’s that, Bob? Like George Bush? Moi? No way. I hate war. I’ve seen war. Well, I hate war. I don’t want the United States to spread democracy. My campaign’s advisors? No, 90 percent of my foreign policy advisors aren’t Bush administration veterans. John Bolton, secretary of state? No, we’ve never said that, never floated that, I have no idea where you’re getting that.

If Romney is half as successful at lying about his his previous positions tonight as he was Oct. 3, and if Obama doesn’t challenge him aggressively, then Mittens will come out of tonight with some new momentum.

Romney will say things that are completely incompatible with each other… A straightforward task for Obama tonight, but a big one and possibly a tricky one, is to point out these contradictions.

Ed Kilgore makes similar points at greater length.  More after the debate (and probably during via Twitter).


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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