Foreign Policy Decoder: The US response to the North Korea threat
Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (c.) uses binoculars to look at the South’s territory from an observation post at the military unit on Jangjae islet last month. AP Photo
Foreign Policy Review: President Obama’s trip to the Middle East
Photos: (Top) President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres are photographed through a window as they are greeted by children waving Israeli and American flags March 20, in Jerusalem. Carolyn Kaster/AP
(Left) President Barack Obama hugs Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport Airport in Tel Aviv March 20. Jason Reed/Reuters
Good analysis of US foreign policy in the Middle East can be extremely hard to find. Here are four experts to read or follow on Twitter.
@arabist: From Cairo, the Arabist is a blog devoted to Arab politics and culture. Launched in 2003, by journalist Issandr El Amrani, the site focuses mostly on Egypt, but also follows broader issues in the Arab world, as well as US policy in the Middle East. Amrani also writes for the Economist, the Financial Times, and Foreign Policy, among other publications.
@shadihamid: Shadi Hamid is the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. His research focuses on Islamist political parties and democratic reform in the Arab world. Hamid has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Slate, and Forbes, among others.
@stevenacook: Steven A. Cook is an expert on US-Middle East policy, and writes a blog for the Council on Foreign Relations. Cook’s blog examines Washington’s Mideast policies, with a focus on Egypt and Turkey. Cook has written three books on government and US interests in Egypt and the Middle East.
This is Herman Cain’s middle-school-civics-class understanding of foreign policy.
America’s foreign policy, two/three words at a time.
You wanted it, so I made it. (Click through to make it larger)
Here’s the follow-up to the GOP Family Values Bingo game for the next debate. The next one is Nov. 22 at 8 PM EST on CNN and is over national security issues. I’ll be live-tweeting it like usual. Follow me @meglanker. Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are all confirmed to attend.
This debate is sponsored by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, who proudly endorse the poor people can’t have nice things meme.
Send me your filled out bingo card, and I’ll post it here. Good luck! I’m not sure if getting a bingo is winning or losing in this game.
He’s taken out Osama bin Laden, Moammar Gadhafi, and Anwar al-Awlaki.
And now, President Obama is officially ending the war in Iraq - with an announcement today that all US troops from Iraq will “definitely be home for the holidays,” before Jan 1.
For a president whose primary strengths were supposed to be domestic - rather than foreign - policy, it’s been a remarkable string of foreign-policy successes. And that’s leading some to wonder why Obama seems to be getting relatively little credit.
As Andrew Sullivan put it yesterday:
“If Obama were a Republican, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now.”
Partisan politics aside, the obvious answer, of course, is that economic conditions pretty much trump everything else. Foreign policy successes do typically lead to bumps in presidential approval, but they are almost always temporary (just ask George H. W. Bush). And when the economy is poor, those temporary bumps can be pretty small, as Obama has learned: After bin Laden’s death last May, Obama’s approval rating went from 44 percent up to 51 percent, according to Gallup. Just six weeks later, those gains were gone.
So, if Obama is unlikely to gain much politically from his foreign policy successes until/unless the economy improves, can he learn from them? Is there something about his approach to foreign policy that has made it so more successful than his domestic policy?
Over at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen proposes one reason for Obama’s superior track record when it comes to foreign affairs: Because Congress generally isn’t involved.
On [foreign policy] issues, Obama can rely on input from an ideologically diverse team, weigh extensive evidence, consult with allies who share his larger goals, and make a decision that no one can block or override. After nearly three years, most of these decisions have proven to be the correct ones.
Domestic policy doesn’t work this way. Decisions over job creation, for example, aren’t made in the Situation Room or the Oval Office. They’re not made by the president alone; they’re dependent on a ridiculous Congress, dominated by fools and charlatans, some of whom seem to want to hold the economy back on purpose. Facts, expertise, and intelligence don’t guide the process; these factors are generally deemed irrelevant, if not worthy of mockery.
Benen also quotes today’s Washington Post analysis by Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, which compares Obama’s narrow, targeted intervention in Libya with George W. Bush’s full-blown invasion in Iraq. The Post piece argues:
Obama’s technocratic approach to governing has served him far better in foreign policy, where facts, expert appraisal and intelligence often trump ideology, than it has in domestic politics.
Taking that comparison one step further, we’d note that the most persistent criticism of Obama’s domestic agenda is that, essentially, he took too much of a George W. Bush approach.
Facing some significant crises, the president responded with a series of massive reform bills - which to Republicans and many independents seemed overtly ideological, and which have so far yielded few obvious payoffs from the perspective of many Americans. From healthcare reform to financial reform to the stimulus bill, the dominant criticisms of these policies (aside from some voices on the left) hasn’t been that they were too small and technocratic, but that they were too big and sweeping, and failed to bring about significant enough improvements.
Even the president’s jobs bill - which the administration is now vainly trying to pass in small chunks - might have had a better chance had it never been presented as one big package in the first place.
Decoder wonders: Amid intense partisan divisions and nonstop media coverage, maybe small, targeted measures that don’t promise too much or even draw all that much attention until the mission is actually accomplished could be a better way to go.
Photo: President Barack Obama speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 21, 2011, where he declared an end to the Iraq war, one of the longest and most divisive conflicts in U.S. history, announcing that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from the country by year’s end. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
When you’re at the top of the polls - and center stage at tonight’s GOP debate in Las Vegas - chances are you’re going to take some blows. While Herman Cain largely dodged them during last week’s debate, Decoder has an inkling he won’t be so lucky this week.
Here are five potential chinks in The Hermantor’s armor. Once you’ve checked them out, get ready to join us at our live chat during tonight’s debate (kicks off at 8 p.m. ET).
1. Was Cain against “999” before he was for it?
Herman Cain may turn out to be his own worst critic. As Business Insider points out, Cain once wrote an op-ed posted on several conservative sites (like The Daily Caller, here) entitled “Don’t Be VAT Stupid” in which he argues:
The worst idea is a proposed national sales tax, which is a disguised VAT (value added tax) on top of everything we already pay in federal taxes.
Cain’s campaign says this is taken out of context - but in the op-ed, Cain lays out explicitly why a national sales tax, the third “9” in his pantheon, is a terrible idea.
First, we have a spending problem in Washington, D.C., not a revenue problem….
Even worse is reason number two: In every country that has established a VAT with the promise of reducing its national debt, the VAT has eventually gone up or expanded on top of the existing tax structure….The third reason the national retail sales tax on top of all the taxes we already pay is a bad idea, is that there is already proposed legislation that replaces allof the federal taxes we pay. It replaces all current revenue. It supercharges our national economic growth, and puts the power of taxation back into the hands of the people who spend their money.
It’s called the Fair Tax.
As you learned from Decoder’s “999 plan” explainer, Cain’s ultimate goal remains the Fair Tax. Indeed, in this same op-ed he argues that “a national retail sales tax on top of all the confusing and unfair taxes we have today is insane!” Those three, bolded words (emphasis Decoder’s) may be his saving grace, as his 999 plan would abolish all other taxes.
2. Gay marriage
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has already signaled he’ll be going after Cain on 999 - but he’s also ready to hit Cain on gay marriage as well. After Cain told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that gay marriage should be left to the states, Santorum offered this on a talk radio program in Iowa:
“The idea that this issue should be left to the states is the position Barack Obama takes and it’s not the right position.”
Cain’s position struck a (negative) chord among several other conservative leaders, as Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” blog.
3. Is Cain too “shocking” on immigration - or not shocking enough?
As Decoder wrote previously, Cain has waffled on whether a fence along the US border with Mexico rimmed with electrified barbed wire is a good idea or not. Whatever this discussion does to the GOP’s chances with Hispanic voters, Michele Bachmann has already hit Cain from the right for suggesting such a fence would be a joke.
"This is no laughing matter, the border fence," Bachmann said. "We’ve seen jokes made by presidential candidates about the fence. It is not a joke. This is a real issue, and this is a serious issue."
4. Does he know anything about foreign policy?
Cain also discussed foreign policy during his chat with Meet the Press host David Gregory. To put it bluntly, Cain has not impressed many experts with his command of foreign affairs. He typically falls back on “I will ask the ____” where the blank can be generals, intelligence analysts, or other experts. Perhaps an honest position, but as the Washington Post’s Rubin writes, when you mix that in with his inability to formulate his own coherent views about foreign policy, the resulting goo is … well, goo.
Right now Cain is telling us he likes the neoconservative Charles Krauthammer and the conservative critic of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, George Will. He told David Gregory he likes both John Bolton and Henry Kissinger as foreign policy thinkers. (What — he curries favor with the despots only on odd-numbered days?) These pairs of conservatives are polar opposites, of course. It is sort of like picking Justice Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as your favorite Supreme Court justices — it suggests a lack of understanding of the diametrically opposed views they present. More to the point, it raises doubt as to how Cain could make national security decisions with no vision of his own or familiarity with the issues.
5. Is Cain a serious contender?
Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have practically become Iowa residents. Jon Huntsman is boycotting the Nevada debate in an attempt to score points with New Hampshire. Rick Perry’s political DNA is about retail politics. Any of them could go after Cain for eschewing the early primary states as he continues on his book tour (he hasn’t been to Iowa since August) in hopes that voters in those states will remember how much time they’ve lavished on early primary contests.
Watch the top Republican candidates face off in the CNN Western Republican Presidential debate LIVE from Vegas! Tuesday night at 8ET on CNN. (Sponsored message.)
Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters