Home/Daniel Larison/Obama’s Hawkishness Is His Greatest Weakness on Foreign Policy, But Romney Can’t Exploit That

Obama’s Hawkishness Is His Greatest Weakness on Foreign Policy, But Romney Can’t Exploit That

Greg Scoblete notices a flaw in Democratic attacks on Romney’s foreign policy:

So President Obama will hail the success of the new war he started in Libya while castigating Romney for wanting to start a new war. I suspect we’ll see this kind of cognitive dissonance emerge frequently during the campaign.

Scoblete is right that Obama’s foreign policy record to date is at odds with campaign rhetoric claiming that “the tide of war is receding.” It certainly hasn’t been receding in Mali, but presumably the Obama campaign is counting on the electorate to not know or care that the Libyan war has had significant harmful effects on regional stability. Liberal interventionists also like to pretend that launching “humanitarian” interventions isn’t the same thing as starting a war. They may or may not endorse the absurd administration claim that U.S. and allied bombing of Libya didn’t amount to “hostilities,” but most would probably maintain that Obama didn’t start a war by ordering military action against Libya. Because the Libyan war was relatively low-cost, and because most Americans were never that concerned about what happened in Libya one way or the other, it isn’t going to become much of a campaign issue.

The Obama campaign and its supporters also know that Romney is poorly positioned to criticize Obama for starting or escalating wars, since Romney has supported all of Obama’s more hawkish and aggressive moves at the same time that he has been trying to portray him as an appeaser and pushover. Obama has one of the more militarized foreign policy records of the last forty years, but he has to be careful in how he talks about this. I suspect this is why so much of the campaign rhetoric has focused on the killing of individual villains and the conclusion of foreign wars rather than drawing attention to the other effects of recent or ongoing conflicts.

Underneath all the campaign bluster, Obama seems to understand that presenting himself as the candidate in favor of ending or scaling back overseas wars is the winning message, which Romney seems only too happy to reinforce by faulting Obama for wanting to end the war in Afghanistan too quickly and being too cautious on Syria and Iran. Normally a presidential challenger would be able to point out Obama’s hypocrisy on this score, but Romney has trapped himself by supporting almost any military intervention regardless of its merits. Even though Obama has started one war and escalated another, Romney goes out of his way to insist that he would outdo Obama in hawkishness on every issue. Obama’s greatest vulnerabilities on foreign policy are his wars, and he has the good fortune to be running against someone who cannot and will not exploit those weaknesses.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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