Every now and then Tom Friedman hauls his head out of his ass and writes a good column.
For the first time in a long, long time, a Democrat is running for president and has the clear advantage on national security policy. That is not “how things are supposed to be,” and Republicans sound apoplectic about it. But there is a reason President Obama is leading on national security, and it was apparent in his U.N. speech last week, which showed a president who understands that we really do live in a more complex world today — and that saying so is not a cop-out. It’s a road map. Mitt Romney, given his international business background, should understand this, but he acts instead as if he learned his foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes, where the menu and architecture rarely changes.
Rather than really thinking afresh about the world, Romney has chosen instead to go with the same old G.O.P. bacon and eggs — that the Democrats are toothless wimps who won’t stand up to our foes or for our values, that the Republicans are tough and that it is 1989 all over again. That is, America stands astride the globe with unrivaled power to bend the world our way, and the only thing missing is a president with “will.” The only thing missing is a president who is ready to simultaneously confront Russia, bash China, tell Iraqis we’re not leaving their country, snub the Muslim world by outsourcing our Arab-Israel policy to the prime minister of Israel, green light Israel to bomb Iran — and raise the defense budget while cutting taxes and eliminating the deficit.
I would add that all that stuff didn’t really happen in 1989, either. Of course, Republicans have been playing the “we’re tough on security and they’re not” game since the end of World War II, and they’ve had a good run with it. Dems were first soft on communism and then soft on terrorism, according to the GOP. Looking at the actual history of the past century or so, I see no evidence that Republicans are intrinsically more effective at keeping America safe than Democrats, but they have managed to market themselves as the superior foreign policy brand lo these many years. And they’ve gotten away with that because Americans on the whole don’t travel much and don’t have a strong grasp of what’s going on in the rest of the world. Or much care, for that matter, as long as it’s not in their neighborhood.
I’d like to think that the young folks who grew up in the Internet age are less provincial and not so easily fooled. We’ll see. But my sense of things is that right now the general electorate is not in the mood to hear about bombing some Middle Eastern country if we can, you know, choose not to bomb some Middle Eastern country. Recent experience tells us that bombing Middle Eastern countries doesn’t really settle anything.
As far as Mitt is concerned, his hookup with the old Bush neocon gang was not something I would have predicted a couple of years ago. I had assumed he was more sophisticated about the world than that. And maybe he is, and he’s just playing the game because he thinks it will help him get elected. But if he knows it’s all a scam, that doesn’t speak well for him, either.