Many U.S. politicians claim to know that the domestic and foreign policies of a state are interdependent. Few seem to practice what they preach, as both of America’s fronts have eroded over the past decade. A weak economy now drives “cheaper” counter-terrorism operations across the globe, reducing the depth of America’s military footprint while increasing its outline.
The end result is equivalent hostility to U.S. foreign policy.
Politico’s front page spread - “Obama plan: Destroy Romney” - attracted our attention for more than its shocking propaganda, although the nauseating spin deserves its own personal examination. One “senior campaign adviser” revealed that President Barack Obama’s political machine has studied George Bush’s “takedown” on Senator John Kerry, hunting “for clues on how a president with middling approval ratings can defeat a challenger.” A “prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House” divulged to Politico, “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.”
Kill his financial record, character, jeans and possibly his Mormon faith under one political umbrella: Romney’s “weirdness factor.” Apparently Obama will now deflect his own “weirdness” onto his challengers.
The diversity of sources leaves no doubt that Politico’s story is based in fact. Truth isn’t lurking around every corner - the report itself could serve as the attack it describes - and the Obama administration may adopt a subtler plan during campaign season. However David Axelrod’s presence solidifies both the Obama camp’s mobilization and the depths it is preparing to sink to: “If you were to write the history of his political career, it would be called ‘Extreme Makeover.’”
“He was very, very good at making a profit for himself and his partners but not nearly as good [at] saving jobs for communities,” said Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist. “His is very much the profile of what we’ve seen in the last decade on Wall Street. He was about making money. And that’s fine. But often times, he made it at the expense of jobs in communities.”
“It’s not just a matter of dodging the debate, not just a matter of flip-flopping and putting his finger to the wind — it is that he’s not comfortable in his own skin, and that gives people a sense of unease,” added a Democratic consultant “expected to be involved in the reelection campaign.”
Romney himself is irrelevant; this scandalous report says as much about Obama’s foreign policy as his domestic policy. With the White House’s propaganda machine deep in action, the administration has successfully blocked an ailing foreign policy with the U.S. economy. Israel and Palestine, supposedly a priority from day one, have been relegated to the basement. Iraq’s unexorcized war has turned to a ghost while Afghanistan pops up every six or twelve months. Once eclipsed by the White House’s response to the Arab Spring, summer attention was shifted back to Afghanistan after Muslim opinion rejected a biased policy towards tyrannical friends and foes. The economic crisis threatening America’s long-term health provided the latest convenient distraction, ensuring that foreign policy will never seize the national debate on Obama’s watch.
Diversionary propaganda is a vital tool in the White House. Taking full advantage of low public awareness, the Obama administration has set its pattern in concrete: systematically ignore foreign policy in favor of domestic challenges.
2012’s outcome can be inferred from this reality. First, the economy will continue to buffer attention from Obama’s unpopular response to the Arab Spring, an unpopular war in Afghanistan, a lingering war in Iraq, the increasing use of drones in general, Guantánamo Bay and deadlock over a Palestinian state. Romney strategist Stuart Stevens remarked, “They can try anything they want — but this race is going to be about the economy,” and Obama’s side wholeheartedly agrees.
Not only does the economy distract from a headless foreign policy, Obama can also blame 2012’s economic factors on Bush: "We do have a serious problem in terms of debt and deficit, and much of it I inherited.”
Thus it’s slightly odd how Obama stopped playing the “inherited” card in foreign policy, since he is normally eager to do so. This urge is presumably canceled out by the toxic mess of U.S. foreign policy, tagged as more risk than reward. Because America’s international problems run so deep, pinning Afghanistan, Palestine or Somalia entirely on Bush loses its impact. The Arab Spring intensified Obama’s foreign policy jitters, robbing him of his last shreds of credibility in the Muslim world. The mistakes he has committed while responding to mass revolution, in addition to a constant propaganda wash, are his administration’s alone.
Never has Obama displayed comfortability “in his skin” while addressing foreign policy, whether in his brief national addresses or passing remarks with network reporters. The Arab Spring's oppurunity was tailered to Obama's message of "change" and he's blown it
Yet foreign policy isn’t inescapable and, as the aforementioned “prominent Democratic strategist” suggests, Obama will need to run on his few accomplishments, meaning foreign policy will revolve around Osama bin Laden’s raid. What this proves isn’t clear - that he has the “guts” and “brains” to send a new drone wave into Yemen and alienate its people? No matter though, since many Americans don’t pay attention beyond the headlines. Obama will surely campaign on the low-budget, automatic counter-terrorism now being rolled out by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus, but he will also shy away from explaining how this strategy will defeat al-Qaeda, win local support and preserve America’s values.
Obama has certainly tried to sell this policy, even expounding it during May’s “Moment of Opportunity,” but few are buying internationally. Fortunately for him a majority of Americans appear to approve for economic purposes, are generally uninterested in foreign relations and have already lost interest in the Arab revolutions. By focusing on bin Laden, Afghanistan’s “withdrawal” and nuclear arms, Obama will attempt to fly under the foreign policy radar as long as possible.
With GOP candidates just as disconnected from the Arab Spring and antsy to drone, foreign policy is bound to become a casualty of the 2012 election.