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“Another Inconvenient Truth For The GOP”: How Will 2016 Republicans Lead A World That Largely Agrees With Obama?

The 14 Republicans running for president can’t decide if Russian President Vladimir Putin is a great leader or a dangerous and despicable “gangster” and “KGB thug,” but they all agree on one thing: President Obama couldn’t lead his way out of a paper bag.

When discussing Obama’s foreign policy, they routinely rely on words like “feckless” and “weak” and “indecisive,” arguing that this alleged lack of spine has left the U.S. where “our friends no longer trust us, and our enemies no longer fear us.” They all say that any of them — Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Ben Carson — would be better able to lead the world than Obama or any of the Democrats running to replace him. Even Jeb Bush, who appears to despise Trump, said Sunday he would support him in the general election “because anybody is better than Hillary Clinton. Let me just be clear about that.”

Here’s the thing: On just about every major topic in world affairs, Obama is more closely aligned with America’s major allies than any of the Republican candidates. Either the Republicans are in denial about this inconvenient truth or they have a plan to work around it. If they do, I for one would love to hear it.

Let’s start with climate change, since all major world leaders — America’s friends, foes, and those the U.S. has a complicated relationship with — gathered in Paris last week to discuss not whether climate change is real but what hard decisions need to be made to address it. Obama worked toward this summit, which ends later this week, for years, talking with world leaders one-on-one and setting up the U.S. emissions cuts. It’s frankly hard to imagine any of the Republican presidential candidates even attending COP21.

Frontrunner Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), rapidly rising to runner-up status, accuses U.S. climate scientists of “cooking the books” and espousing “pseudoscientific” theories on human-influenced global warming. Even the GOP candidates who do believe that humanity is adversely affecting the climate say they don’t think that’s a big deal or don’t believe the government can or should do much about it. And even if one of those candidate open to the idea of addressing climate change is elected, he will still lead a party that is opposed to any such action.

There are different ideas on how to best reduce carbon emissions, but the GOP’s indifference to or denial of climate change would put it on the lunatic fringe in America’s closest allied nations. In a recent study, Sondre Båtstrand at Norway’s University of Bergen examined the policy platforms of the main conservative party in nine countries — the U.S., U.K., Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany — and found that “the U.S. Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.” (The article is behind a paywall, but you can read a summary at The Guardian, or Jonathan Chait’s more opinionated synopsis at New York.)

The GOP is so out-of-step with the rest of the world on climate change that one of the big hurdles to a global climate agreement is the expectation that the Republican-controlled Congress won’t ratify a legally binding treaty. Obama insists that parts of the deal will be binding under international law, but proponents of an effective climate pact are concerned that GOP opposition will leave it toothless. Other countries, The Associated Press reports, are annoyed that the world is “expected to adjust the agreement to the political situation in one country.”

Let’s turn to Syria, a country where the world only really agrees on one thing: The Islamic State must be defeated. This is one area, broadly, where Obama and the GOP candidates agree, though they differ on the best way to defeat ISIS. Jeb Bush, like Turkey, wants a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, and Trump wants Russia to wipe out ISIS for everyone else. But most countries, and certainly most U.S. allies, favor bombing ISIS in Syria and helping local militias fight them on the ground, something Obama was the first to initiate.

Russia has committed ground troops (as has the U.S., to a very limited degree, just recently), but Russian forces are mainly propping up the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A few of the Republicans, like Cruz, support leaving Assad in power, a position held mostly by Russia and Iran. European allies, Israel, the Gulf Arab states, and Turkey agree with Obama that Assad must go.

When it comes to refugees from the Syrian mess, the GOP field is unified against accepting any in the U.S. Among U.S. allies, Obama is on the stingy side, but his pledge to take in 10,000 refugees in 2016 still puts him closer to Canada, taking in 10,000 this month alone; France — the site of the terrorist attack that prompted the Republican refugee retreat — which has vowed to take in 30,000 over the next two years; and Germany, signed on to accept 500,000 asylum-seekers.

On Cuba, the U.S. diplomatic freeze and economic embargo has put the U.S. at odds with Europe and the overwhelming majority of Latin America for years. All but two Republican candidates — Trump and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) — oppose Obama’s Cuba thaw. Only three of the 14 candidates — Bush, Paul, and Gov. John Kasich (Ohio) — aren’t totally against the Iran nuclear deal Obama’s team negotiated with not just U.S. allies Britain, France, and Germany, but also China, Russia, and Iran.

For what its worth, the world thinks highly of Obama’s leadership, according to a Gallup poll of 134 countries — the U.S. got top leadership marks in 2014, as it has every year since a low point in 2008. Still, the Iran deal is a good prompt to note that not every U.S. ally hews closer to Obama than the GOP on foreign policy.

Israel and Saudi Arabia, for example, oppose the Iran accord, and Israel’s conservative government neither likes nor trusts Obama. But here again, Obama’s hard line against new Israeli settlements is closer to the world consensus than the GOP’s unwavering allegiance — as is evident from every United Nations vote in favor of the Palestinians and every lone U.S. veto in U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning some Israeli military action in the Palestinian territories.

And Obama has certainly made mistakes, which Republicans are right to call him out on. Drawing a figurative “red line” in Syria and then failing to enforce it, even when it became clear Congress wouldn’t support him? Obama would probably take that back if he could. Libya? The U.S. followed France, Britain, and the Arab League into that intervention, but it was Obama’s decision to commit U.S. air and sea assets to the fight and wrangle U.N. approval. “Leading from behind” — the most enduring phrase (coined by an anonymous Obama adviser) from the Libya campaign — is a questionable idea of leadership.

The Republican presidential candidates may talk about the U.S. leading with its freedom beacon, or its values, or the example of its raw exceptionalism, but when they get down to specifics, they really only talk about raw power, usually of the military or theatrical variety. A president has to make tough calls, and when you’re the leader of the world’s sole superpower, those decisions have very real, potentially catastrophic consequences.

Most of Obama’s big foreign policy victories — the Russian nuke-reduction treaty, the Iran nuclear deal, the Cuba thaw, perhaps a COP21 accord — have been off the battlefield, and he’s probably not unhappy about it. All of those have involved finding common ground with at least one hostile country, and Obama has been the driving force behind all of them. “Your credibility and America’s ability to influence events depends on taking seriously what other countries care about,” Obama told reporters in Paris on Tuesday. He was talking about climate change, but it could just as well be a guiding policy.

That may not be the kind of global stewardship Republicans are talking about when they talk about leadership. But if they want to win the right to lead the United States, they should explain how their White House would lead a world in which, on just about every major issue, the U.S. president is the odd man out.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, December 7, 2015

December 8, 2015 - Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , ,

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