Day: September 15, 2012

GOP critique: trade and Iraq

This is the sixth installment in a series responding to the Romney campaign’s list of ten failures in Obama’s foreign and national security policies.  Here is a list of the previous posts:

1.  Taking the Romney critique seriously

2.  GOP critique: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan

3.  GOP critique: leaks and cuts

4.  GOP critique: Israel and Syria

5.  GOP critique: Russia and Latin America

I’ll likely do one more to wrap up.

Failure #9: Getting Beaten Badly By Competitors On Trade

Beating up President Obama about trade is difficult.  It requires that you ignore a sharp increase in U.S. exports:

Exports of goods and services over the last twelve months totaled $2.171 trillion, which is 37.5 percent above the level of exports in 2009.

U.S. exports have increased for 10 consecutive quarters to a record high.  This is one of the truly bright spots in the economic recovery.

Instead, you focus on the lack of new trade agreements and the hyperactivity of our competitors:  46 between the EU and China, nine signed by the European Union and 18 others in negotiation, 4 signed by China and 15 others under negotiation.   You worry about the United States not being included in a non-existent Asian economic bloc, even though the United States is not in Asia.  And you don’t give any credit for the three trade agreements the Obama administration successfully got ratified in Congress, after renegotiating them to get better deals for U.S. industry.

I don’t get it:  how do signed trade agreements get valued more than actual goods and services exported?  If it were the other way around, with a dozen trade agreements signed but exports constant or declining, would the GOP be happily praising Obama?

Failure #10: Putting Our Interests At Risk By Mismanaging The Transition In Iraq

Last but not least:  Iraq.

The Romney campaign would have it that the Obama administration failed to negotiate an agreement that would have permitted U.S. forces to stay in Iraq after the end of 2011 to solidify progress.  That much is true.  The question is whether things would have been better with 10,000 or 20,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq.  The U.S. military and the Iraqi military thought so.  But popular and elite opinion in both countries was against it.  No one but the Kurds spoke up in favor in Iraq.  There was ambivalence in both political parties in the U.S. as well.  The Iraqi government wasn’t willing to provide the U.S. soldiers with immunity from prosecution, and the U.S. government wasn’t willing to keep them there without it.

The withdrawal of the U.S. troops was not abrupt, as the Republicans claim.  It was gradual and proceeded according to elaborate planning, meeting a deadline set by the Bush administration.  It is true that “the day after the…withdrawal of U.S. troops, Iraq’s Prime Minister took worrying actions to consolidate power. He leveled terrorism charges against the Sunni Vice President, causing the Vice President to flee the capital and sparking a political crisis that continues to this day. Iraq still faces worrying insurgent attacks. And the encroachment of Iranian influence in Iraq is a threat to our interests in the region.”

It is not clear however that keeping the U.S. troops in Iraq would have prevented any of this.  The growth in Iranian influence in Iraq dates from shortly after the U.S. invasion.  George W. Bush, the never-mentioned president, deserves most of the credit for that.  We had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq for a long time.  Did that do much to stop Iranian influence?  Iraq does still face worrying insurgent attacks.  Would the United States have been better off with tens of thousands of its soldiers still at risk?  What would they have done about the judicial charges against the Sunni vice president?  I’ve been warned by people in the know not to assume that he is innocent, though I’m personally still inclined towards that presumption, until his appeal is decided.  But how and why would U.S. troops have intervened against an indictment by an Iraqi court?

The Republicans think a military training presence and a new U.S. ambassador in Baghdad would fix all of this.  There is no U.S. ambassador partly because they did not like the one the President named.  Presidents don’t normally “install” ambassadors.  They nominate them and get the advice and consent of the Senate before they are sent to post.  Until that happens, there is a Charge’ d’affaires–a deputy ambassador–who tends to our interests.  There is a substantial military training presence in Iraq still, though I confess I’ve found numbers hard to come by.  I’ll bet on its amounting to a few thousand, with contractor support.

I agree that “Iraq is a nation in the heart of a strategically vital region where we spent much precious blood and treasure to protect our security and ensure liberty.”  But it was high time that the Iraqis govern and defend themselves.

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A reader’s challenge

A reader challenges me:

I was surprised at this statement: “Muslims lost people and respect in the West, where no doubt anti-Muslim extremists will take action against mosques.”  Your predictions are usually pretty cautious. The latter implies strong conviction that extremists will attack (?) mosques in the West. Since the West has a pretty good record of actually not reacting in that manner (very limited number of incidents in the U.S., for instance, though not non-existent either), how could one be sure?

There were about 185 hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. in 2011, according to the FBI.  One every two days or so.  Is that “very limited”?  They don’t seem to keep statistics on mosques per se, but it is clear attacks do occur, some claim with increasing frequency recently.   And my expectation was about the West, not only about the United States.  The French may be quicker.

Part of the reason I expect such things is that the film that triggered the demonstrations was made in the U.S. by anti-Muslim Christian activists, mainly but not exclusively Egyptian Copts, who seem unlikely to stop at film-making.  And even if they stop, the film and yesterday’s events are likely to incite others.  Here is what one of my Twitter followers had to say:

No way to compromise with Muslims; your pacifism is weakness and you’d be the 1st to lose your head under Sharia law.

I take this as his wish rather than an analytical prediction.  I can’t help but wonder how many Muslim acquaintances he has, how he would treat Muslims who in any way disagreed with him or tried to build a mosque in his neighborhood.

Hate crime statistics do not of course include what I would regard as the hate campaign against the “mosque at ground zero,” which wasn’t a mosque and wasn’t located at ground zero.  Campaigns against mosque-building have occurred in many American communities, for example.

We’ll see if I was right or wrong in expecting “action against mosques,” an admittedly ambiguous phrase that was intended to cover attacks, resistance to mosque-building, demonstrations, incitement, bigoted tweets and the rest.  In retrospect, I might have done better to anticipate “action against Muslims.”

I win either way:  if I’m wrong, I’ll be glad it didn’t happen.  If I’m right, I’ll have the satisfaction, albeit unhappily.


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