Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Rocking the vote may not rock the boat

Ian Bremmer
Nov 6, 2012 19:59 UTC

This week — chads willing — Americans will finally put an end to four years’ worth of electoral Sturm und Drang. Only then can the country begin to ask the question that matters much more than who will win: Will anything change? On foreign policy, it’s increasingly clear that the answer is, for the most part, no.

Likewise, this week — politburo willing — the Chinese will finally put an end to a year of bureaucratic angst. The powers that be hope that once a new president is installed, the Communist Party can put months of scandal behind it (Bo Xilai’s trial and Wen Jiabao’s family fortune, to name just a couple) and start to answer the question they’re most eager to put to bed: Will anything change in a new regime? On foreign policy, it’s increasingly clear that the answer is — you guessed it — for the most part, no.

In a volatile world, American and Chinese foreign policies appear, at least for the next few years, set in stone.

Americans — the people, not the politicians — don’t particularly care about foreign policy at the moment. The economic recovery, which few link directly to foreign policy questions, is too important. Anyone who watched the final presidential debate — ostensibly focused on foreign policy — saw two candidates who worked their way back to domestic issues at every opportunity. After a question about forcing Hosni Mubarak from office, for example, President Barack Obama said, “It’s very hard for us to project leadership around the world when we’re not doing what we need to do here at home.” Romney answered a question on America’s role in the world with a critique of teachers unions.

When the candidates weren’t pivoting, they were mirroring one another. Obama and Mitt Romney have different orientations toward the world, but their actual policies are remarkably similar. Both embrace the tactical value of drones; both think Europe’s economic problems deserve benign neglect; both favor free trade. Neither candidate is willing to take a more assertive stance on Syria; both want to get out of Afghanistan and impose tough sanctions on Iran.

Romney’s only path forward: Back the way he came

Ian Bremmer
Oct 3, 2012 15:27 UTC

Six months ago, the U.S. election was about the economy, and little else. Nearly everyone agreed that for Mitt Romney to win, he’d have to exploit Barack Obama’s glaring weakness: an economy that was as stubborn as the Congress that refused to rescue it. Unemployment was high, Europe’s future was uncertain and the markets were volatile. Not coincidentally, polls showed the two men neck and neck.

But now Mitt Romney has kicked off the week of the first presidential debate – which is focused on domestic policy – with a foreign policy op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Noting the recent protests over the Innocence of Muslims video and the Iranian nuclear program, Romney writes: “These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere ‘bumps in the road.’ They are major issues that put our security at risk.” Obama’s now just as vulnerable on foreign policy as on the economy, and Romney seems to realize it. So what’s the problem? Voters are still basing their decision overwhelmingly on the economy. Romney has flipped the electoral script, but it’s not a winning strategy. He would be wise to get back on message before it’s too late (which it already may be).

Over the past few months, the global and domestic economies have averted the double-dip disaster that seemed so imminent. The Europeans have made significant strides toward a stronger union, the Supreme Court upheld the Democrats’ healthcare law, Ben Bernanke moved forward with a new round of quantitative easing, the housing sector appears to be growing again, and consumer confidence is at its highest in the last four months. That unemployment remains high and GDP remains weak means that 81 percent of voters still think that the economy is “not so good” or “poor,” according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. And yet that and other polls show that there’s an even split on which candidate voters think is best equipped to handle the economy.

Getting away with it while the world’s cop is off duty

Ian Bremmer
Oct 1, 2012 13:30 UTC

As the world convened at the U.N. General Assembly last week, the willingness of the Obama administration to risk blood and treasure promoting democracy abroad was on full display: Barack Obama gave a stirring speech defending American values and asking other democracies to adopt them. But Obama’s rhetoric doesn’t tell the whole story. He didn’t deliver his speech until after an appearance on a daytime chat show, in obvious support of his re-election campaign.

Many foreign policy experts have criticized Obama for wasting time with Barbara and Whoopi on The View when he could’ve been engaging with foreign leaders on the East Side of Manhattan. But the experts’ takeaway from Obama’s priorities last week is no different than it has been from the administration’s response to months of civil war in Syria, the teeter-tottering of Libya, the reluctance to pose a credible military threat for Iran and the refusal to engage in the Middle East peace process.

The U.S. is willing to do less on the world stage than it has since the onset of World War Two. In the long term, this reset of foreign policy and military initiatives may yield the country a peace dividend. In the short term, there are three international issues where the situation on the ground is deteriorating rapidly and where, in the past, a U.S. president might have intervened. Let’s look at them:

National candidate’s European vacation: Why Mitt should’ve stayed home

Ian Bremmer
Aug 7, 2012 16:18 UTC

Poor Mitt. Despite the listless U.S. economy, the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the abyss the euro zone still faces, his campaign is showing the world that it’s hard to go up against an incumbent, even one who is as potentially vulnerable as President Obama. Team Romney had to hope that the jobs report that came out on Friday would be very bad, so it could continue to pin the country’s economic malaise on Obama’s policies. Instead it got a mixed report – good hiring, but an uptick in the unemployment rate – that made it hard for Republicans to present a clear message to the American people.

Of course, what we’re seeing in this campaign is that Romney hardly needs the Department of Labor’s help when it comes to presenting mixed messages. If Romney were a smarter candidate, or had a smarter team around him, he’d absolutely hammer Obama on the economy, to the exclusion of any other issue. That’s right – no talk about healthcare, immigration, gay marriage, contraception in Catholic hospitals or Osama bin Laden. Romney’s campaign, if he wants to win, should be all economy, all the time.

Any college kid getting a poli sci degree could tell Romney that. So why on earth did his campaign just waste a week in the UK, Israel and Poland? Those three countries are American allies, to be sure, but they also don’t matter nearly as much as they used to. As such, leaving aside his constant stream of gaffes while on his tour, he didn’t get much out of his trip. Sure, Poland and the UK were happy to flatter him (to the extent that they could, given the foot he had in his mouth about the London Olympics and his shutting out of the press throughout the trip, especially in Warsaw). His stop in Warsaw may have had some impact on Polish-American swing-state voters, while Israel was important to large chunks of his American constituency, especially super PAC funder and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Make no entangling foreign frenemies

Ian Bremmer
Apr 16, 2012 18:09 UTC

It’s often said that kinship runs deeper than friendship. Lately, when it comes to chumminess among world leaders and their colleagues in neighboring countries, friendship has trumped citizenship.

Until recently, it was rare to find leaders willing to forge friendships with candidates across borders or to find would-be leaders campaigning inside foreign countries. There are good reasons for that: Candidates who cross these lines can find it harder to win elections or to govern once the electoral test is passed. Their foreign friends can pay a price for backing the wrong horse and for forfeiting a bit of diplomatic leverage once they find themselves sitting across the bargaining table from the man or woman they campaigned against. Consider three current examples.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for the re-election bid of French President Nicolas Sarkozy is especially startling. It’s hardly surprising that Merkel wants Sarkozy to win. The two leaders have forged a durable personal relationship as they navigated their way through Europe’s ongoing crisis of confidence. The French and German leaders deserve considerable praise for their well-coordinated bid to bolster the euro zone.

About Mitt

Ian Bremmer
Jan 11, 2012 22:35 UTC

The media can’t help themselves when it comes to presidential politics, and that’s never been more in evidence than in the current Republican nomination battle. For the press, campaign season is its Olympics, the time when reporters’ bosses open their wallets to send them to far off places like Dixville Notch, New Hampshire and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and correspondents can make a career on how well they report on the race. Except this year, there is no race. Mitt Romney will be the nominee, and that’s been clear for months.

Yet here’s the lead from today’s Wall Street Journal recap of yesterdays New Hampshire primary: “Mitt Romney is a long way from claiming the Republican nomination, but he leaves New Hampshire with significant advantages in a field where no single opponent seems well-positioned to stop him or become the obvious alternative to him.” While the reporter may merely be acknowledging the mathematics of the delegates Romney still has to win in primaries across the country, the hedging on Romney’s inevitable victory, to anyone who follows the day-to-day stories in the campaign, rings hollow at best.

With Gingrich, then Santorum, and Bachmann and Cain before them, news stories always turned to polls to explain the latest in the “anyone but Romney” vote. But the story the media should be telling is that polls during campaign seasons historically change the most and matter the least. Flawed methodology and small sample sizes make even the most rigorous polling little more than a one-day snapshot of popular sentiment, yet poll results are often reported as if they were all but recorded in the county clerk’s election rolls.

Romney’s foreign policy: Reagan redux

Ian Bremmer
Oct 13, 2011 15:55 UTC

By Ian Bremmer
The views expressed are his own.

After yet another GOP debate where foreign policy took a near-total backseat to economic and domestic policy, Mitt Romney is in the catbird seat for the nomination. He even locked up the endorsement of Tea Party AND Republican machine favorite, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Romney’s only problem: it’s October 2011. Not one primary has yet taken place. Romney will have to return to his foreign policy platform to expand it, should he be fortunate enough to make it to the general election. And based on the speech he gave at The Citadel, we can already see that Mitt Romney intends to return to the American exceptionalism of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush eras.

For Romney, as for many politicians of both parties in decades past, the United States is not just a big and powerful country. Rather, it is the only country in the world that deserves superpower status. What’s unfortunate for Mitt and his all-star, Bush-heavy foreign policy team is that, these days, that line of thinking is more nostalgic than realistic. (By the way, though Romney was almost bombastic at times, calling Iran’s leaders “suicidal fanatics,” his actual policies are unlikely to reflect or adopt that tone — at least not with his foreign policy team as constituted now.) The idea of the U.S. as the leader of the free world is at a post-WWII nadir. However, that’s not because some other country, like China, has risen to fill the vacuum. No, the fault is wholly our own.

In fact, right now there’s a global debate about whether the U.S. really deserves its superpower mantle, given the political and economic issues of recent years that have unquestionably eroded its leadership position. It’s helpful to compare the two camps:

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