A Discouraging Picture Emerges

I’ve mentioned before that I’m discouraged about the presidential campaigns. Not the least reason is that I vote for president primarily on foreign policy and, weak as Obama has been from my point of view, Romney is shaping up to be much worse. This is actually a little bit encouraging:

JERUSALEM — Mitt Romney said Sunday that he respects the right of Israel to defend itself, but seemed to back off a foreign policy adviser’s earlier suggestion that he would support a unilateral military strike by Israel against Iran to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapon capability.

The presumptive Republican nominee began a series of meetings with top Israeli officials here Sunday and plans to deliver a muscular defense of Israel in a formal speech delivered near Jerusalem’s Old City.

Asked during an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” whether he would “support Israel’s bombing of Iran,” Romney responded, “That would be statement which would be of a different nature than what our nation has already expressed with regard to Iran. What we have said and with which I concur is that we should use every diplomatic and political vehicle that’s available to us to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear capability state…

“If all those options fail, then we do have other options and we don’t take those other options off the table. But that’s as far as I’m willing to go in terms of discussing this matter while on foreign soil.”

The dichotomy in U. S. foreign policy positions on Israel has been between the “no daylight” strategy favored by both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations and the “conditional support” view favored by the Obama Administration. A return to the “no daylight” strategy probably won’t do a thing for Romney’s support among American Jews who, as George Will noted on This Week today, will continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic but it will shore up his support somewhat among evangelicals, still unsure of him, who are a make or break voting bloc for him.

Unfortunately, although the “conditional support” strategy is probably objectively a better one for the United States, the Obama Administration has gotten precious little for its approach. The Arab states of the Middle East still don’t consider us an unbiased interlocutor and, honestly, the ship for that has probably sailed. The best we can be for the foreseeable future is the Far Evil as opposed to the Near Evil (Iran) and it’s hard for us to claim that status with the huge military presence we continue to have in the region.

Despite that tiny glimmer of hope in what has otherwise been one foreign policy snafu after another for the Romney campaign, I’m still unhappy. Let’s consider the possible outcomes that have even a remote likelihood of actually coming about.

Status quo: Obama re-elected, Republicans hold House, Democrats hold Senate

As Shakespeare said, nothing will come of nothing. Does anyone see any great likelihood that the Republican House will be more favorably predisposed to a lame duck Obama than they have been to a first term Obama? Or that the president will exert greater efforts to work with them now than he has to date? Or that the Senate will become less stupid if it continues under its present leadership?

Bipolar government: Obama re-elected, Republicans hold House and take Senate

At this point I think this is the most likely outcome and, if I thought that controlling Congress would make Congressional Republicans and the White House more eager to work together, it would be my favored outcome. That would, basically, be the Clinton Administration 1995-1998. Unfortunately, I think we’re more likely to get the Clinton Administration 1999-2000.

An uneasy balance: Romney elected, Republicans hold House, Democrats hold Senate

If I believed that a Democratically-controlled Senate would really act to restrain the new Romney Administration’s worst foreign policy impulses (or, as, I think Dan Drezner has suggested, that Romney is just saying the stuff about foreign policy required to get elected and would actually be more like Bush 41), this would not be an awful outcome. Unfortunately, I think the present Senate cannot be trusted to act prudently and that Romney actually believes some of the stupid things he’s been saying about foreign policy.

The Wave: Romney elected, Republicans hold House, Republicans take Senate

We’ve seen this movie before: George W. Bush in 2001-2004. During this period the federal government was not notable for either its fiscal or foreign policy restraint. If it is, in fact, true that both parties are bipolar, showing one face when out of power and one face when in power, and the face we saw during George W. Bush’s first term was the face of today’s Republican Party when in power, I do not see a return to that as something to which I’d look forward.

17 comments… add one
  • jan Link

    I don’t reflexively calculate what a new president will do based on what a past one of the same party did. Consequently, I don’t use GWB as the reflecting pool in speculating the pros and cons of a Romney presidency. For instance, when you look at Obama, he certainly hasn’t gone in the same direction as Clinton did, either domestically or in his foreign policy judgments.

    In fact, some of Romney’s strengths, IMO, are viewed as weaknesses by many in the GOP. For instance, he holds less dogmatic stances regarding social issues — some having matured and changed through the course of his life. Romney also is a collaborative type of boss/leader. He pulls in people from all sides of a business/political spectrum to derive what he deems the best direction to take or solution to a problem, rather than deciding it by his own pure ideological reasoning (as I see Obama frequently doing). This was clearly exemplified by the HC legislature hammered out in MA, which had a diverse assortment of minds working on the final outcome. Associates at Bain, have made the same assessment of Romney, as to how he ran and succeeded in his business affairs.

    Therefore, I see a Romney Presidency with a less jaundiced, fixated eye than most democrats or republicans do. I actually think he will incur the ire of people on both the left and right, by taking a course of action that is best for the country rather than what is best for a given party.

    When it comes to foreign affairs, I tend to believe he will base a final decision on what people on the ground and with first-hand experience suggest, rather than operatives in his party recommend. And domestically, I think Romney, hands down, is a pragmatic bottom-line thinker in finding and putting suitable variables into the equation of what it will take to grow the economy, generating more jobs. He seems confident and sincere about his ability to do this, without all the muscular bureaucracy that Obama has flexed, during his failed attempts to get out of recessionary times.

  • steve Link

    I would have voted for the Romney of 2003 when it comes to domestic issues. I think words and promises have consequences. I dont think Romney can be that same pragmatic leader.

    This is the first time I have heard Romney take anything other than the total, unquestioned support for Israel line. Since I think he will get elected, I hope he is sincere about this. How would we tell? Which Romney do I believe?


  • Personally, I take everything Romney says with a huge grain of salt. He’s “semper gumby,” willing to say whatever needs to be said in order to get elected – except for the gaffe’s of course. I don’t think he has much of a clue regarding foreign policy, much less a complex topic like Iran’s nuclear program. That he’s advised by a bunch of neocons is not a good sign.

    If he wins I think he’ll come into office expecting to solve America’s economic woes, but he’ll soon find out the limitations of his office and will turn to foreign policy. What will he do? I have no idea – he doesn’t have any kind of strategic vision that I’ve been able to tell.

  • Drew Link

    Well, I was ready to write a huge piece. But Jan summed it up pretty much from my perspective.

    Dave, I think you err in projecting Bush II on Romney.

    Romney fits pretty much with my libertarian bent in the Republican Party spectrum. More importantly, I think he is a steely eyed finance man, not a crazed and immature ideologue like Obama, when it comes to the economic problems we face.

    We are at a point in our history where we need to set aside some idealistic goals, and deal with economic reality. Turnaround guys, who have also been venture guys, understand this. See: Mitt Romney.

    He won’t throw grandma out in the snow. But he won’t be so profoundly stupid or self interested as to fund solar companies either. He will keep the tax and regulatory posture such that risk takers will breath easier. They will be energized, and not demoralized. I suspect he will take a 20 year view of how to ween ourselves off the debt problem. Please let him have 8 to set the trajectory. He will not be draconian. Politics will preclude that. But he knows how to do a turnaround, and get from a to b. The path is more important than the next 3 years.

    I know, Dave, you vote on foreign policy. To be honest, I think that’s a bit shallow. I know you will say a President can’t affect the economy. I disagree. Current resident case in point.

    If the Egyptians want to commit suicide, so be it. But my gut churns when my neighbor loses his job. It simply doesn’t have to be this way. But further. A vibrant US economy drives all foreign policy alternatives. We are headed to an impotent state.

    The mother of all foreign policy issues in my lifetime has been energy. This is a self inflicted wound, totally driven by the left. Drill, baby, drill. Frack, baby, frack. Nuke, baby, nuke. Even the French understand that.

    How do we tell the mothers and fathers of dead soldiers from middle eastern conflicts – a culture full of people who hate us and our values – that it was all because of a bunch of concerns of a crazed idiot from California about a rare frog, barren Alaskan ice that no one sees, Teddy Kennedy’s ocean view, or bizarre theories about earth quakes and water pollution.

    We could send the Middle East back to where they belong, insignificant, religiously intolerant but irrelevant, violent and crazy, and doing their camels in the dead of night, if we wanted. We just need to stop listening to the left.

    But the left views the world through a different prism. This isn’t about a frog. That’s a convenient fiction. It’s about anti capitalism.

    I can eliminate defense spending and energy spending in about two strokes of a pen. If the left would let me. Until then, they have real blood on their hands.

  • Drew Link


    I guess I wrote a huge piece.

    But I invite objections. This is the way I see it. Our country can’t afford anymore to coddle these ridiculous and unproductive notions. Time to get real. Our finances are a mess, and the clock is ticking.

    In a line from the Godfather. Women and children can afford to be careless. Men can’t. (with apologies to Jan). But you get the point.

  • jan Link

    A wonderful commentary, Drew! That’s what I have liked about your POV, is that it eliminates the ideological haze surrounding most people’s thinking. I do agree that this country, with all the people in it, is at an important crossroads. I don’t know if it is the crossroads or not. But, it is nevertheless a notable juncture in our country’s constitutional life span, one which may impact our direction for many years to come.

    And, for those who get stuck on small nitpicking subjects, parsing every iota of a candidate’s tax return, casting contraception into the limelight of discussion, sanctimoniously stirring the bigot/racist pot, making sarcastic comments about the FLOTUS’s coat, a candidate’s wife’s blouse or horse — this is just a waste of time, IMO, especially with so many other stark, dark issues out there encumbering our families and future.

    As for viewing a candidate’s worth, or reason for one’s vote, only through the optics of foreign policy — that baffles me. It seems like such a lopsided measurement. Domestic and foreign policy are interlinked — one directly or indirectly effects the other. To lop one off, and determine who you will vote for based entirely on the other, is a unilateral way of forming a decision — akin to using only half a brain, IMO.

  • jan Link


    I think you are right that Romney’s strengths lie in domestic policy. However, he is not the only candidate who has had to up his game in areas of expertise once they became POTUS. No one man usually has it all covered — they rely on not only experts in the field, but also become privy to classified information, filling in puzzle parts that gives them a broader spectrum of knowledge in which to make clearer policy objectives.

    I also disagree with your “semper gumby,” description of Romney. There’s always a certain amount of BS and appeasement that goes on in almost anyone’s campaign. After all, when you give a straight, honest answer, like Romney did concerning the Olympic’s preparation you get slammed, jeered for being too tactless. However, in his business career he was known for clarity and leadership. Even as MA governor, if you filter out the normal partisan criticism, he appears to have made strides, keeping the state afloat, despite the overwhelming democratic sentiment in that state, leaving it in better shape than when he first came into office.

    Obviously there are no guarantees with anyone. However, seeing how the last 4 years have been under the current president, I really don’t want more of that…….

  • Drew,

    I get that Romney would have a psychological effect on the business community for all the obvious reasons. Beyond that, though, there isn’t a lot he can do without the consent of Congress. Most of Romney’s campaign promises are things he can’t deliver unless he can get 60 votes in the Senate – how likely is that? In your view what exactly are you expecting Romney to do?


    I also disagree with your “semper gumby,” description of Romney. There’s always a certain amount of BS and appeasement that goes on in almost anyone’s campaign.

    Sure there is always some of that, but Romney is worst than most IMO. Beyond his views on business and his experience with same (where he has a well-established record), what are the man’s values and what are his actual positions in other areas? So many of his positions “evolved” since he began his run for the Presidency and his positions just happened to evolve to match those of key GoP constituencies. Coincidence?

    And the thing is, this isn’t Massachusetts. Can he govern as a “Massachusetts Republican” with the Tea Party running the show in Congress on one hand, and the Pelosi liberal block on the other? I’m skeptical.

    What I think will happen is that he won’t be able to get much done domestically because of Congress and the Senate and so, like so many of his predecessors, he’ll turn to foreign policy because he has more unilateral authority there. Well, before I vote I’d like to know if he’s really a card-carrying member of the necon cabal. I’d like to know if he’s got a strategic vision for the country, which is something we really need right now. Is it going to more of the same “tactical geopolitics” we’ve been employing, to our detriment, since the end of the Cold War?

    Also, I admit I have a strong generational bias. To me Romney is the latest candidate to suffer from boomer narcissism – men who want to be President to satisfy their own egos more than accomplish actual goals for the American people.

  • Icepick Link

    Beyond that, though, there isn’t a lot he can do without the consent of Congress.

    I disagree. The President has ever increasing regulatory powers that require little approval from Congress. And in recent weeks we’ve seen that the President doesn’t actually have to worry about Congress at all, and can re-write any and all laws to his own personal satisfaction. You’re electing a monarch now, and not the constitutional kind.

  • The President has ever increasing regulatory powers that require little approval from Congress.

    Yeah, he’s got a few things he can control, but it’s not a whole lot – certainly not anywhere near what he’s promising.

  • jan Link


    You have genuine concerns that I really can’t answer except with generalities and my own POV, which is not enough.

    I think prior to the convention most of Romney’s focus has been on winning the R primary, enlarging his staff and organization, and now venturing out on the trail with all, but the official stamp of convention approval, as the R nominee. I remember reading that he got tromped on in his Senate battle with Ted Kennedy (in the 90’s) by being too forthright in throwing out political stances early on, only to suffer a 1000 paper cuts shredding him to pieces from the Kennedy machine. He has openly said that he would not make such a naive mistake again. Maybe that’s why he’s rolling his ideas out in neutral generalities, rather than specifics, waiting until the conventions are over, and the stadium games begin to be played in earnest. This is when it would seem timely, with more people paying attention, to condense his points and go into greater details about a ‘vision.’

    Regarding your boomer narcissism critique of him, I quite frankly see just the opposite. Background stories of his family rearing show someone raised to be self-reliant versus reliant on any family wealth. His father seemed like a cut and dried task master who had no airs, and expected his children to not have any either. If anything Romney seems self-deprecating, a little socially awkward, and is described by his peers, work associates to be modest who would prefer to praise others than lavish praise upon himself (like someone extensively does who already occupies the presidency).

  • Jan,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I’m not asking for Romney to lay out a ton of specifics on his proposals, but you’re right it’s still early and he me might come out with some coherent vision.

    On narcissism, no doubt he’s a hard-working, driven individual and one can’t diminish his business accomplishments. For me the question comes down to this: Why does he want to be President? He’s been running, essentially full-time, for how many years now? Like many of his contemporary predecessors, I think he sees the office as a personal goal more than a vehicle to do great things. That he seems to willing to change his principles to whatever is necessary to get nominated and elected tells me this run for office is more about him than the United States of America.

    And again, I freely admit my bias against the boomer generation and admit that bias might color my analysis of Romney.

  • I think he sees the office as a personal goal more than a vehicle to do great things.

    I think this is, unfortunately, a Baby Boomer malady. Obviously, we didn’t invent it but it is characteristic of us. If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too.”

    In answer to the question “How do you become a great president?” the answer that’s being given is “First, become president.” The answer should be “First, become great.”

  • TastyBits Link

    This IS NOT about Mitt Romney. It is about politicians generally.

    RE: Lying

    Most politicians do not outright lie. They take liberties with the truth. The “lies” are a combination of statements designed for the listener to draw the desired conclusion. This is usually called “spin”. The better politicians can do this much better.

    A politician needs to convince 51% (some exceptions) of the potential voters to vote for him/her. Few people agree substantially with any specific politician. On some issues, a firm stance will eliminate a portion of the voters (abortion, gay marriage, etc.).

    By not taking a firm stance, the politician will not alienate all of that portion of the voters. The politician’s committed voters will assume the politician is using this to get votes, but the politician actually agrees with them. The uncommitted voter will assume the politician is being “moderate”.

    This is a natural consequence of democratic elections.

    RE: Flip Flopping

    See above.

    Additionally, the politician may need to comprise to get certain things he/she wants. They must “choose their battles”. In other cases, the politician honestly changes their stance on an issue. Too much changing is suspect, and switching back and forth is not an indication of an honest change. The politician may be representing his/her voters position.

  • jan Link

    “In answer to the question “How do you become a great president?” the answer that’s being given is “First, become president.” The answer should be “First, become great.”

    I personally don’t think one can attach an adjective or adverb to anyone’s role until they have assumed it. While the above comment deals with being POTUS, it can be extrapolated to apply to being a parent, boss, employee, doctor. Although we can speculate how a person will do in a given role by the types of experiences they have had in preparing for such a role, their character traits etc., it isn’t until one is in the starting gate, and the pistol goes off announcing ‘real time’ has commenced, that a sense of someone being ‘great’ or ‘not so great’ will unfold and manifest itself.

  • TastyBits Link

    In answer to the question “How do you become a great president?” the answer that’s being given is “First, become president.” The answer should be “First, become great.”

    I agree with @jan. I can think of a few examples. My understanding is that Winston Churchill was not great before or after WW2. Hitler was not great before or after WW2. Both were failures somewhat, but I have not studied either.

  • I personally don’t think one can attach an adjective or adverb to anyone’s role until they have assumed it.

    Certainly people can exceed or fall short of expectations and there’s no doubt that leadership and character aren’t truly tested until their put into a situation that demands it. I’ve seen this a lot in the military, where individuals who are excellent managers fail utterly in a crisis, while the odd-balls who can’t seem to tie their shoes change into superheroes when they stumble into a position of real responsibility.

    That said, intentions matter and I don’t see why we should accept candidates who are mainly in it for their own egos, men (it’s mostly men) that are perfectly willing to tell “us” what we want to hear in order to get themselves elected.

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