To Presidential Candidates: Focus on Foreign Policy
Foreign policy is an area that requires the president to undergo on-the-job training, since the position possesses a major role in shaping the image of the United States abroad. Leaders who can gain strategic advantages in foreign policy can provide sparks of leadership worthy of the office; however, such sparks are largely missing in a polarized Washington stalemated over domestic matters. President Obama demonstrated strong leadership by emphasizing the impact of American decisions in foreign policy on America’s global sphere of influence during his State of the Union address. When it comes to the presidential race, however, discussion of foreign policy is conspicuously absent.
Many aspiring presidential candidates do not possess experience in Washington, as has been highlighted by the lackluster foreign policy knowledge of Republican candidates in the ongoing election cycle. Many of the one-time frontrunners in the race tout pre-presidential resumes that are more relevant to domestic concerns, particularly economic ones. Thus, foreign policy is often relegated to the backburner or mentioned in support of positions on economic issues.
For instance, Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and Federal Reserve Chairman in Kansas City, focused on his economic savvy while concealing his lack of prowess in other policy areas, particularly foreign policy. He promoted adding the words “and clarity” to President Ronald Reagan’s famous “peace through strength” slogan, yet delivered a muddled answer to an interview question on Libya. His stance was more of a political gimmick than an honest opinion. Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), another former front-runner, argued that the lack of adequate security on the American-Mexican border was more important than foreign policy. Not to diminish the urgency of our ongoing illegal immigration crisis, but America must focus on other sets of borders that could prove hotspots for conflict.
These are but two examples from candidates who have focused so much on domestic economic issues that they have forgotten that enlightened discussion on foreign policy should be a crucial component of an election-cycle discourse. Yes, our debt is a major threat to our national security, as is our unfazed consumption of foreign oil, especially from Middle Eastern nations that harbor anti-American actors. However, China should not be mentioned merely as a rhetorical flourish for oft-repeated promises of tax cuts or reducing the size and scope of government. And turmoil involving OPEC nations, especially Iran, can result in consequences beyond our energy security.
The strengthening of national defense at home and abroad has constituted a major plank of the Republican Party’s platform since the apex of the Cold War. Not to generalize about a party that aspires to be a “big tent,” but the Republican Party professes to support our troops more than the Democrats do. Why then are they not paying more attention to these issues?
In recent months, belligerent candidates—especially former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)—have provided more focus on foreign policy issues in the context of their domestic consequences. Tensions over the Strait of Hormuz—significant to American consumers because of the shipment of oil from OPEC nations—have sparked a rise in discourse over American policy in Iran. Issues like American energy independence and the American alliance with Israel have been integrated into the conversation as well. However, there is still little discussion about key transitional states, including North Korea, those effected by the Arab Spring, and others who are subject to change thanks largely to American actions.
Quite frankly, any discussion on more casual issues such as economic security will not matter if our very lives are threatened. All the pandering about jobs will not matter if state-sponsored or private agents demonstrate capabilities that could jeopardize our national security. For instance, what if the Korean crisis or an international stalemate with Iran takes a turn that involves the detonation of a nuclear missile? If only the candidates would attempt to address such questions more thoroughly, then they would demonstrate the strong leadership that is worthy of the presidency of a world superpower.