Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Campaign Blather

. Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dan Drezner offers some unsolicited advice to Mitt Romney. Well he calls it advice, but it amounts to a request: "Please tell us what you think about foreign policy before the election [so that we can pick it apart]". Romney may choose to acquiesce or not -- hint: at some point he will -- but I'm here to tell you not to pay any attention to it.

Why? Well, why not? We know that foreign policy plays a very small part in electoral outcomes in most cases so almost all campaign rhetoric is bloviating. Moreover, foreign policy decision-making is inherently more prone to post-election recalculation than other policy areas if only because there is so much information that is not known to the candidate until after the election. This is doubly true for candidates who have never held national office: both Clinton and Dubya made notable departures from their campaign rhetoric once they actually held office*; neither was punished at the polls for it.

At some point Romney will be asked direct questions about foreign policy. When he asked those questions he will say things like "I will get tough with China to make sure they play by the rules and stop stealing American jobs" and "I will not let terrorists kill American citizens, and I will do whatever is necessary to keep Americans safe" and "I will keep America strong by not cutting our military budget" and "Screw Russia". He will not say whether he favors neoconservatism or realpolitik because he does not know what those things are. Neither does any of the people who will be asking him questions (unless Fareed Zakaria gets a crack, which he won't), nor will 99.9% of the people who will hear his answers.

His actual foreign policy will be run by the bureaucracy, which will be highly constrained by structural factors, and will be reactive to events yet to occur.

This is not meant to say that Romney's foreign policy decisions will not be important. They will be. It's just that we won't learn much about what they will be from any campaign statements.

*Obama, on the other hand, seems to have no foreign policy at all besides "kill people with drones" and "try to not be as embarrassing as the last guy". This was basically his campaign strategy as well.

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Campaign Blather
 
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