There is an interesting discussion over at the Compass Blog of RealClearWorld (always worth reading) about the extent to which presidential hopefuls are obligated to take positions on big foreign policy issues like Libya.
It was kicked off by Benjamin Domenech,who summarizes the statements on Libya of the various candidates and maybe-candidates. As Domenech sees it, knowing one’s mind about foreign policy is a test of a politician’s readiness to serve as the nation’s commander-in-chief. Accordingly, he gives the lowest grade to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for demurring altogether on Libya. My politics are very different from Domenech’s — in my view, Amb. John Bolton’s experience has not made him “someone who understands the world outside our borders” — but he raises a very interesting question about how politicians should handle their foreign policy learning curve.
In response, the Compass’ Greg Scoblete and Daniel Larison on his Eunomia blog turn the question on its head. Being members in good standing of the Realist school, they extol the virtue of prudence. By restraining himself, Mitch Daniels is actually showing his respect for the seriousness of the issues. Here’s Scoblete pushing back against fellow Compass blogger Domenech:
An “intelligent and sophisticated” person would not, in my view, formulate serious foreign policy positions in a matter of weeks in response to media demands that he or she say something profound. Given the gravity and magnitude and pace of change in the Middle East, I think it speaks rather poorly of a candidate to articulate sweeping policy doctrines or give definitive answers on matters of war and peace …
Domenech rightly decries the vacuity of most of the potential 2012 presidential candidates positions on Libya, but this is symptomatic of a glib political culture (one that, again, is not a Republican phenomena but a bipartisan one). Standing aloof from that, at least at this stage, isn’t a bad thing, in my view.
With the benefit of two cycles as an Iowa caucus-goer — as well as having been the main foreign policy adviser to a 2008 US Senate candidate (now senator) — I think they’re right on the mark. Genuine foreign policy seriousness means going through a gradual process of knowing one’s mind. Now, if a politician preparing to run isn’t even getting tutorials on the issues, then that could rightly be considered derelict. I remember reading someone who wrote that they knew Howard Dean would run for president when they saw him in 2002 reading Foreign Affairs magazine on a flight.
As a final word, let me nominate my own favorite for worst foreign policy performance in campaign rhetoric. No, not former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, despite his laughable Libya flip-flops. The worst is actually Gov. Mitt Romney, who’s been telling voters that if America only is insistent enough on getting our way, the rest of the world will snap into line. Those interested in learning more about the shallowness of Romney’s foreign policy ideas can read Spencer Ackerman’s March 2010 take-down of his then-recent campaign book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.
Photo: state govt of Indiana