Thomas Friedman: Obama vs. Romney on foreign policy

Republicans have traditionally claimed the high ground on national security [rightly or wrongly], and have repeatedly criticized Democratic presidents for being too soft on foreign policy. This time around, the tables have turned, says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In a column published on Sept. 30, 2012, Friedman declares President Obama to be more adept at managing foreign policy than his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

In “The World We’re Actually Living In,” Friedman describes the choice in the 2012 election as being between Obama, who understands the complex world we live in, and Romney, who is stuck in the past.

Today’s world, writes Friedman, is…

…a world that has become much more interdependent so that our friends failing (like Greece) can now harm us as much as our enemies threatening, and our rivals (like China) collapsing can hurt us as much as their rising. It’s a world where a cheap YouTube video made by a superempowered individual can cause us more trouble than the million-dollar propaganda campaign of a superpower competitor…It is a world where, at times, pulling back — and focusing on rebuilding our strength at home — is the most meaningful foreign policy initiative we can undertake because when America is at its best — its institutions, schools and values — it can inspire emulation, whereas Russia and China still have to rely on transactions or bullying to get others to follow. It is still a world where the use of force, or the threat of force, against implacable foes (Iran) is required, but a world where a nudge at the right time and place can also be effective.

This complexity doesn’t argue for isolationism. It argues for using our power judiciously and in a nuanced fashion. For instance, if you had listened to Romney criticizing Obama for weakness after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, you’d have thought that, had Romney been president, he would have immediately ordered some counterstrike.

What it all means for voters is this, Friedman concludes:

The morning after the election, we will face a huge “cliff”: how to deal with Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, without guidance from the candidates or a mandate from voters. Voters will have to go with their gut about which guy has the best gut feel for navigating this world. Obama has demonstrated that he has something there. Romney has not.