The Charlotte Convention: Clashing Voices on Foreign Policy

Below you will find our take on the Democratic Convention in Charlotte which follows our earlier separate post commentary on the Republican Convention in Tampa. 

Charlotte: Accomplishments and Caution  

There were a number of speakers who touched on foreign policy but the main speakers directed their attention mostly on economic issues as well as the gap between the two parties on the future direction of America.  This included addressing controversial social issues and the growing gap between the rich and the middle class.  

But while foreign policy did have a less prominent  role in most of  the speeches, the reality of getting it right or wrong in this sector is critical for the security and constructive leadership in international affairs by America and the peace and progress of the globe.

It was largely the speech by Senator Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that set the context and landscape of the challenges America faces and set forth the case of what the Obama administration has achieved in a difficult environment.

Kerry quipped that, “Our opponents like to talk about ‘rebooting Exceptionalism.’ But all they do is talk. They forget that we are exceptional not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things.” He went on to say, “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off now than he was four years ago.”

The interesting fact is that polls were finding that the public thought Obama and the Democrats were better at foreign policy/national security than the Republicans– a change from past historical results over decades. It is clear that after the convention, with the strong statements by Kerry, Clinton, and Obama, that perspective has not changed. 

Recent talk after the tragic events in Libya by Romney and Ryan has only strengthened the image of “foot in the mouth” neophytes on the part of the GOP team.  

At the convention, the three key and other speakers (and in the platform) voiced a long litany of accomplishments in the international arena. They include the New START agreement with Russia which will reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons, the gaining of access via Russia to supply our forces in Afghanistan, the vote in the UN Security Council for sanctions and NATO action against Libya, which resulted in the ousting of a tyrannical regime. Successes included the “rebooting” of our relations with Russia, the pivoting towards Asia, the withdrawal from Iraq as promised, and the set date for ending US combat role in Afghanistan.  Further, Obama has led the rethinking of our defense posture and a focus on future dangers rather than building unneeded weapons and forces for past wars. 

Senator Kerry, himself a Vietnam hero, made the main foreign policy speech and it was effective and direct. He said: 

“…..our opponents like to talk about American exceptionalism, but all they do is talk. They forget that we’re exceptional, not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things. We break out of the Great Depression, win two World Wars, save lives fighting AIDS, pull people out of poverty, defend freedom, go to the moon and produce exceptional people who even give their lives for civil rights and for human rights…”

“…and despite what you heard in Tampa, an exceptional country does care about the rise of the oceans and the future of the planet. That — that is a responsibility — that is a responsibility from the Scriptures. And that too is a responsibility of the leader of the free world. The only thing exceptional about today’s Republicans is that almost without exception, they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place. An exceptional nation demands exceptional leadership.

While the Republicans largely ignored Afghanistan, Senator Kerry ripped into the varied and clearly thoughtless GOP positions. In Kerry’s own sarcastic words: 

It isn’t fair to say that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position.

He — he was against — he was against setting a date for withdrawal. Then he said it was right. And then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was tragic to leave Iraq. And then he said it was fine. He said we should have intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to run away from the reporters who were asking questions. Then he said, the intervention was too aggressive. And then he said the world was a better place because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it, before you were against it.” 

Vice President Joe Biden in his talk put it when talking about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound — that “if you attack innocent Americans, we will follow you to the ends of the world.” By contrast, Biden recalled, Republican challenger Mitt Romney once said that it wasn’t worth “moving heaven and earth, and spending billions of dollars, just to catch one person.”

More extraordinary still, it was the Democrats who saluted, mourned, and celebrated the “fallen angels” and “wounded warriors” of the U.S. military. Romney thoughtlessly observed no such understanding, leaving Sen. John Kerry to note, in his speech Thursday night, never before had a wartime nominee for president, of either party, “failed to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech.” 


One interesting fact is that Romney and Ryan both on domestic, international issues, and on the challenges America faces were unwilling to get into the specifics of what their policies are, what exactly they would do different, and why their policies are more realistic and would be more effective.

The simple answer is that often while they mouth that they are different or better, in fact, you can see where their prescriptions for the most difficult issues are similar to Obama’s, simplistic and “mother and apple pie” (like supporting our allies), and where they are massively different: like climate change. Their position flies in the face of sound science and would bring catastrophes to the global environment and is just nonsense in addressing one of the great existential risks the world faces in this century. 

The Democrats were able to demonstrate clarity and experience in the Obama, Biden, and Kerry team.  They did sometimes also fall back on generalizations and there were some gaffs like the “Jerusalem” wording.  But the history of four years of actions and policies spoke for themselves, and Kerry’s summary of accomplishments and criticism of outlandish foreign policy positions provided Obama the change to focus on larger goals and connect on an emotional level. 

The recent events underline how events abroad can intrude on campaign efforts the “keep on message” on domestic topics. It also shows how stupidity by the GOP team in this area can cause a backlash and expose to light the shallowness of the GOP posture on national security and diplomacy.  

We welcome your comments,

2 thoughts on “The Charlotte Convention: Clashing Voices on Foreign Policy

  1. Harry C. Blaney III October 3, 2012 / 12:56 PM

    I am not at all sure that I agree with Mr. Harris on how close the Republicans with Romney and Paul Ryan and the Congressional types are frankly to the Democrats. Let’s look at a few issues beyond climate change. The Repblicans have largely opposed arms control treaties including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty CTBT), they want to build new and added nuclear weapons and spend billions to do so, they oppose the Law of the Sea Treaty which the Joint Chiefs of Staff support and even industry does, they think Russia is our “foe” rather than a potential partner to engage, they act as if going to war with Iran is our destiny and seem to care little of the fallout and costs. And let’s add their view of global economic policy, including pushing for a “gold standard,” and push an economic program that is based on a discredited theory of austerity and budget cutting in time of economic stress….which will only contribute to the global downturn.

    There was a time when what Mr. Harris said was true that time seems now gone forever.

    What kind of leadership would America have if the Republican international agenda were to be America’s?

  2. tex harris September 25, 2012 / 4:36 PM

    A useful but broad brush overview on the Parties Foreign Policy positions.. But alas, the lack of specifics from the Romney slate and the hiding the ball on policy pronouncements by the Obama side in this tender pre-electoral period makes trying to discern sharp policy differences very hard to do in this sterile make-no-mistakes time slot. More instructive would be drawing out positions from earlier times to see the dividing lines between the Parties which other than dealing with climate change may not be that sharply divergent, if one ignores the fringe screamers in both camps.

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