Saturday, July 28, 2012

Election theatrics

With both President Obama and Governor Romney last week making foreign policy speeches to the same audience of veterans, international issues edged back into the political debate. As Romney undertakes an international visit to the UK, Poland and Israel, he will have the opportunity to clarify his own foreign policy views – an area in which he is less experienced than on the economy. In anticipation of calls by Romney for further support for Israel and to coincide with his there, the Administration has announced an enhanced security package for Israel. Our contacts with the Romney campaign suggest, however, that under his Administration foreign policy would still come a distant second to the economy. Overall, his approach might not be radically different from Obama’s. There would be a stronger tone toward Russia and China, but there is unlikely to be any delay in the timetable of withdrawal from Afghanistan. Caution toward direct US military intervention, notably in Syria and Iran, would continue. There might also be a new emphasis on Latin America, the “rebalancing” of US strategy toward the Asia-Pacific and Obama’s emphasis on drones and special forces in the counter-terrorism sphere would continue or even be extended. The military budget would be less under pressure.  This all lies ahead. For the present, the dominant issue is Syria and, by extension, Iran. Despite the sharply deteriorating situation there, military intervention by the US remains unlikely. There are certainly voices inside the Administration advocating a more robust approach and, as the bloodshed mounts, they will become more influential. However, Obama’s closest advisers, among them Tom Donilon, the National Security Adviser, continue to warn that intervention carries unwanted risks. Behind-the-scenes exchanges with Russia have yet to see are a meeting of minds. Romney’s Israel visit will return the spotlight to Iran as the chief regional risk. On a more reassuring note, intelligence community analysts are cautiously optimistic that tensions on the Korean Peninsular are easing. They are not yet ready to anoint the new leader Kim Jong-eun as a reformer, but they do see him as fully in control and showing some signs of rethinking some of his father’s economic tactics. They do not see any change with regard to North Korea’s nuclear program.

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