Foreign Policy of the GOP Debates (1): We couldn’t care less @ Foreigners

The ‘foreign policy’ debate

MEDIA UPDATE: On November 8, I published a brief write-up on the US-Korean alliance with the East Asia Forum. EAF is a good outlet for readers of this site. The piece was based on longer writings here on the blog earlier this fall. Comments are welcome.


There have been lots of these GOP debates (here is the whole schedule), and the one above, from Nov 12, is the most relevant for readers of this site. Here is a decent write-up on that debate, and after months of them, there is enough said to provide something to say on the (otherwise scarcely discussed) foreign policy edge of the primary.

1. Any first foreign policy comment must be, paradoxically, that foreign policy isn’t really much of an issue. No one at the primary stage really cares about foreign policy, beyond Israel, which increasingly isn’t seen as foreign policy at all, at least by the GOP, and a general chest-thumping of American awesomeness. This is not news for Americans. US observers all know that domestic politics, especially the economy, pretty much determines elections. When you are a superpower you have the luxury to disdain and ignore foreigners. But foreigners don’t know this as well, and US allies especially often build-up (self-serving) images of themselves as ‘critical’ to the US, even though monolinguistic, untravelled Americans couldn’t care less about these countries (poor Georgia; the entirely ginned-up Korean belief that K-pop is a ‘wave’ in the US; a self-important German colleague once told me that America should never force Berlin to choose between Washington and Paris – oh please! like we care, dude!). Indeed, Hermann Cain’s rise and his staggering ignorance about the non-US world tells you that disinterest in the world – presumably because we are so exceptional and powerful that we don’t need to care – is almost welcomed by the Tea Partiers who hate IOs, illegal immigrants, and US bargaining with foreigners. Build the fence higher! And electrify it!

2. For all the hype about the US switching its focus to Asia, you wouldn’t know that from the debates. Do you really think that the average tea party white guy voter cares about SK or Japan? The Middle East was far more dominant. Iran, Pakistan, Israel, and the rest of the usual suspects were everywhere. I think I heard Gingrich mention NK once in this debate. The China stuff between Huntsman and Romney was flat. India wasn’t even mentioned, but waterboarding (of GWoT detainees) was a disturbingly hot topic. Again, this isn’t news to US observers who know how many Americans, especially Christians, take a fairly apocalyptic, clash-of-civilizations view of the GWoT. Bachmann even warned of a global nuclear war against Israel (god, she’s a terrifying flake). Elites may want an Asian turn in US focus (as I think would also be a good idea), but the ‘Christianist’ GOP electorate remains focused on the ME, and we should expect that to continue to dominate US time, even if we don’t want it to. Terrorism, oil, and Israel aren’t going anywhere.

Asians are bound to be disappointed, because of the deep-rooted belief (desire, actually), verging on desperation, that the US should pay attention more to them. (Read this and this – apparently India and Southeast Asia are ‘indispensible’ for the US. Oh, and so is Latin America. — Not! Americans just don’t care. Elites aren’t the voters. Build the fence higher!) What this tells you is that the Asia hype is a lot more hollow than Asians want to admit, because it requires US attention to be justified. So America is still the unipole whether you like it or not (natch), and the ‘new Asia’ schtick is more about Asian insecurity and desire for prestige, than it is about empirical shifts. (Yes, the shift is happening, but a lot slower than the ‘Asia is the future’ types I meet here all the time will admit.) I have argued before that Americans just don’t care than much about Asia, no matter how many Asians tell us we should. Israel or even ‘old Europe’ Ireland is a lot more recognizable to Americans than Shanghai or Bangalore. Further, so long as India, Japan, China, and the rest out here are all balancing each other and competing, the US doesn’t really need to get sucked into the maelstroms of the Korean peninsula or the South China Sea anyway. The Asian hype that the US should pay more attention out here is really an effort to get the US to help locals contain China, which bait we should not take, IMO.

3. Cain, Bachmann, and Perry are way out of their depth. By now everyone knows Cain’s ‘U beki beki stan stan’ remark and Bachmann’s off-the-wall assertion that the ‘ACLU runs the CIA.’ (Yes, the same Agency that runs the drone strikes that now kill US citizens.) But even Perry can’t seem to give good answers – that he ‘commands’ the national guard and has friends in the Defense Department are qualifications for the White House. That’s all he’s got after 3 months on the trail? What happened to Perry? He seemed so imposing back in August, and he has just crashed. He comes off more clueless and lost in the woods, after his pre-scripted reply sentences run out, than even Bush. It’s amazing how weak this field is (which is why Romney is running away with this thing, even though no one likes him).

Part two will go up in three days.