Aaron David Miller keeps flogging his claims about current bipartisan foreign policy consensus:
A couple of weeks ago, I proposed a howler of an idea in this space: If Barack Obama is lucky enough to be reelected, he should choose his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, as his secretary of state.
The idea wasn’t serious; the point behind it was. For the first time in a quarter-century, the United States has a bipartisan — even nonpartisan — consensus on many of the core issues relating to the country’s foreign policy. Briefly put, if you can get past the campaign rhetoric, there’s not much difference between the candidates on Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, fighting terrorists, avoiding costly wars, the Arab Spring, and even, in the real world of imperfect options, how to deal with recalcitrant Russians and Chinese.
This wasn’t correct two weeks ago, and it still isn’t. On anti-terrorism, Iran, and the “Arab Spring,” Miller seems to have a fair point. Romney and Obama do not disagree on these things in any meaningful way. On everything else, this is just an assertion in the face of contrary evidence. His entire argument falls apart when it comes to Iraq, Afghanistan, new wars, Russia, and China. That is why he has to throw in the qualifier of ignoring campaign rhetoric. If we ignore everything Romney actually says about these issues, we can affirm that Romney doesn’t disagree with any of Obama’s policies. That’s a neat solution for someone committed to the view that Romney doesn’t mean any of the things he’s saying, but it’s simply not credible.
To the extent that there is a bipartisan consensus on some of these other issues, Romney has tended to position himself outside of it. He is at odds with internationalists of both parties on China, and his policy director insists that his China policy represents a deliberate break with the GOP. Generic China-bashing is a time-honored campaign tactic, but Romney has gone far beyond what major party candidates usually say.
On the issues where there is less bipartisan agreement, such as Afghanistan, or virtually no bipartisan agreement, such as Russia, Romney has understandably put himself on the Republican side of the divide, and then he has overreached by making statements that even some of his own advisers can’t support. Miller’s mistake is in thinking that Romney’s positions on Afghanistan and Russia are just election-year posturing. On the contrary, both of them come out of general Republican opposition to Obama’s management of the war in Afghanistan and to the “reset.” Romney has defined his foreign policy as being “anything but Obama” not just for electoral purposes, but to identify with his own party’s reactions to Obama’s policies. In order to believe that there isn’t much real difference between Obama and Romney on Russia policy in particular, one has to believe that most Republican foreign policy professionals are basically in agreement with Obama’s Russia policy, which is clearly not the case.
If Miller wants to make the case that leading members of both parties share many of the same assumptions about the U.S. role in the world, its overseas military presence, the importance of U.S. “leadership,” and the nature of foreign threats to the U.S. and its allies, he will get no argument from me. That bipartisan foreign policy consensus exists and it unfortunately remains as strong as ever. That isn’t what Miller is arguing. He is claiming that there is now more bipartisan consensus on foreign policy now than at any time in the last 25 years, which is not true, and he is insisting that there are no real differences between the major party candidates on foreign policy, which is demonstrably false.
As for the rest of Miller’s argument (the need to appoint a member of the opposing party as Secretary of State), the reality is that the only Republicans who would be willing to serve as Obama’s Secretary of State in the next term are the ones that the rest of the party has already marginalized or written off as unreliable. In other words, a “bipartisan” appointment of an ex-Senator such as Chuck Hagel or Richard Lugar would not reflect bipartisan consensus, but would underline the extent to which the parties have diverged over significant issues in the last decade. Any Republican with ambitions outside of diplomatic service will take one look at the political fortunes of Jon Huntsman and conclude that serving in an Obama administration wouldn’t be worth it. Republicans with no future in elected office, including Hagel and Lugar, might accept the offer, but Obama has little incentive to offer it to them. Likewise, it is difficult to imagine any qualified Democrat willing to implement Romney’s foreign policy, and it is even harder to imagine Romney entrusting the job to someone from the other party. He might make an exception for Joe Lieberman, but that confirms what I’m saying: Lieberman would be acceptable to the GOP as Secretary of State because he tends to agree with them more often than he does with members of his old party.