Tim Pawlenty was one of very few to take the time to rail against Obama’s foreign policy at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, but it’s becoming glaringly obvious that the President could face down certain GOP opponents in this area. It all depends on who the Republicans see fit to field.
Isolationists will have you know that foreign policy isn’t at the top of the agenda for the electorate right now – it’s not even close. But nor was it the deciding factor in the 2000 elections which featured most prominently; education, social security and – you guessed it – healthcare. In fact, 32% of television spots between September and November 2000 focused on healthcare. Just 0.2% were foreign/defence related in 2000. It’s an issue that doesn’t need to dominate the mind of a voter – they just need to know their candidate has some semblance of understanding of foreign affairs; the nouse to act on their behalf on the world stage. As Donald Trump remarked recently – there are reasons why Ron Paul isn’t electable for President. Potentially similar reasons for Trump himself.
Presently the national deficit, government spending and civil liberties dominate the political discourse. But America is not out of step with the rest of the world as some would try to have you think. Debates are raging over Egypt, Libya and Iran, not to mention the current theatres of war along with South America and the world island of Eurasia. The GOP must not fall into a tea-party concocted trap of fielding a straight up pacifist – it would cost them too much in 2012.
Most of what we’ve heard so far are vague criticisms espousing Obama’s failure to act decisively. Rick Santorum suggests the US ‘turned its back’ on Hosni Mubarak – as if Egypt’s past few decades of rigged elections and 'emergency rule' were something for Americans to be proud of sponsoring. A Cold War reality became a morally questionable irrelevance and Obama will take points from having this democratic revolution occur on his watch without committing U.S.resources.
At CPAC just over a week ago, a straw poll once again was topped by the isolationist Senator Ron Paul. Don’t let it fool you. Most voters were under the age of 25, thus the sum total of their experience of U.S. foreign policy is less, ‘Tear down this wall,’ and more ‘Dude, Where's My WMDs?’ Older audiences will be reassured to see the U.S. maintain a strong defensive capability and an exceptionalist attitude. Obama is not by any stretch of the imagination the embodiment of this – his foreign policy credentials (or lack thereof) necessitated the Biden shaped padding in his administration. But after a CPAC once again dominated by isolationists, Tim Pawlenty was the one who came out on top in terms of strategic defense. Perhaps a sign that the GOP need to consider a bold, varied ticket for 2012. McCain and Palin, leagues apart in appearance at the least, began to mirror each other as the election drew closer in 2008. It's crucial that a Republican ticket gets the balance and difference correct.
Although Pawlenty is polling ahead of Palin, Gingrich and Paul – he’s still at only 7% to Mitt Romney’s 40%. Romney wasn’t bad on the subject matter – but when you hear Pawlenty echo what the world has been thinking about the United States’ international policy, that is, ‘We undermine Israel, the U.K., Poland, the Czech Republic and Colombia, among other friends,’ you tend to think that unless the GOP finds the dream team of someone tough on big government and tough on foreign affairs – it’s going to be Obama 2012.