Election 2012: Foreign Policy a Defining Factor for a President

Callahan Photo
DePaul professor Patrick Callahan talks foreign policy
and the election. (Photo by Angelica Robinson)

By Angelica Robinson
The Red Line Project

Posted: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

Polls generally show that the American people are not particularly paying attention to international issues, but foreign policy has a much broader -- and more indirect affect -- on people's voting decisions, DePaul University political science professor Patrick Callahan said Wednesday night.

"Specifically, I think people take cues about whether or not a person appears to be presidential from how they deal with international affairs," Callahan said at a weekly elections forum in Lincoln Park.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have very different ideologies as it pertains to foreign affairs. Callahan described Obama's administration as using a Liberal internationalism approach.

Liberal internationalism stresses the importance of international institutions, such as NATO. Representatives come together to figure out how to pursue a common interest or venture.

"What will make the decisions of international institutions effective is the desire of countries to be apart of the international community," he said.

Under liberal internationalism, the best interests of the country derive from inter-dependence. One country's insecurity directly affects the security of other countries.

This is why economic planning has to be done cooperatively, Callahan explained. In order for the US to move forward, countries must work together.

"International law and international norms provide a framework for thinking about what to do," he said.

Another key element of this ideology is that American leadership is necessary but limited. Callahan said that there are a variety of factors including domestic and fiscal constraints.

"No one institution is so powerful that it can impose its will and solve the world's problems," he said.

One downside, Callahan points out, is that liberal internationalism generates opportunity for conflicts -- particularly as it pertains to power distribution. An example of this is the recent situation with Libya and Syria.

"The U.S. intervened only as part of a handle operation and only after authorized by the United Nations," he said. "The president made it very clear that we would not use military force in the absence of international authorization."

Romney has a more of a traditional realism view on foreign policy. Romney has not had to deal with international affairs on a large scale like Obama.

Callahan said it is important to consider the rhetoric of his speeches and what was said in a Republican platform. Another clue into how he would handle foreign policy is to look at his advisers.

"There are two competing tendencies at work in Romney perspective on international affairs," he said. "And those are characterized as traditional realism and neo-conservatism."

Neo-conservatism has two parts: Hegemonism and Liberalism.

Hegemonism is the idea that leadership is necessary in order to prevent disorder from emerging. While Liberalism keeps basics interest of the US at the forefront and the thought is that democracy is better that other forms of government. The thought is that the US is the best leader, and others will follow.

"This is because the leadership of the US will be seen as being benevolent, in the common good, and consistent with widely shared values," he said.

This ideology is similar to that of the Reagan administration, Callahan said.

"It is very clear from the platform and other things that the rhetorical strategy of the Romney camp is attempting to establish some sort of association between Romney and Reagan," he added.

Romney has argued for a more confrontational stance against Russia and China, which falls in line with traditional realism ideology.

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