Obama vs. Romney: Outcome of election and international relations

Rachel Cross

Monday’s public debate between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) revolved around the issue of U.S. foreign policy and international relations. Both Obama and Romney presented similar views on international relations, yet differed in their style and interpretation of how certain foreign issues should be handled.

John Constantelos, faculty advisor in the international relations department at Grand Valley State University, said it is difficult to predict how U.S. foreign policy would change if Romney was elected into office.

“Gov. Romney has harshly criticized President Obama’s foreign policies throughout the campaign, but in the third debate, he generally agreed with the administration’s actions,” Constantelos said.
He added that a few crucial differences stand out between the two candidates. For one, Romney has consistently called for closer security ties with Israel.

Another dividing issue is that Romney plans to return to a unilateral approach, which is working with only one country on a particular issue. Constantelos said unilateralism can also be referred to as “isolationism.” Obama, on the other hand, will continue to pursue U.S. objectives through a multilateral approach, or working with multiple countries on a specific issue.

Polly Diven, director of the international relations program, said Romney differs from Obama in two concrete ways, as well.

“Mitt Romney consistently has taken a more aggressive stance on Iran,” Diven said. “Romney also said he would increase defense spending by 4 percent, whereas Obama said he wouldn’t cut defense spending, but that instead he would slow the growth in defense spending.”
In addition, Diven said Obama has a track record in U.S. foreign affairs and has ended the official U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

“Under his watch, we killed Osama Bin Laden and we put together an international coalition that successfully overthrew the dictator of Libya, Muammar Qadiffi,” Diven said. “Both candidates have said they will remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.”

Heather Tafel, faculty advisor of international relations, said when she watched the debate, she saw that both Obama and Romney agreed on a lot in regard to international relations. Agreements included constraints to finances and U.S. action.

“I didn’t see a lot of differences on a lot of issues,” Tafel said. “The disagreements I did see were more on margin disagreements on how to do things differently. One big difference was their interpretation of events, like when the ambassador in Libya was killed, and whether it was a policy or security failure and how to resolve it.”

She added that Romney has a greater emphasis on increasing military funding and continually uses the phrase “peace through strength,” which comes from the Reagan years in the 1980s, meaning that peace will be achieved through a larger and stronger military.

“Romney appears as a tough guy image to project, and he says that Obama is going around apologizing to other countries,” Tafel said. “I see it as a difference in style, I’m not sure it’s a major difference in substance. I thought there was more agreement on foreign policy than domestic issues; they weren’t interrupting each other as much in the latest debate.”

She added that if Obama is reelected, there may be certain events that will force Obama’s hand to rethink current strategy. For example, the dispute about China and Japan both claiming islands may be a situation brewing, which would then cause the U.S. to intervene.

Tafel also added there were a lot of issues that weren’t touched upon, such as the financial crisis in Europe.

“The financial crisis not being brought up by the moderator or candidates is quite troubling, because if Europe goes down it will have an impact on the United States economy,” Tafel said.
In the end, the outcome of the election won’t have a significant impact on the International Relations program at GVSU.

“There are lots of general theories about international relations that go beyond presidents themselves,” Tafel said. “We try to teach general sorts of knowledge and schools of thought with regard to international relations or politics.”

But the election will have a large effect on the international relations of the U.S. as a whole.

“In my mind, the most important problem the U.S. has in the world today is perceptual,” Diven said. “We must work together with our allies to promote our mutual long-term interests. It is important for U.S. citizens to increase awareness of international issues, since so many global issues have implications for us domestically. If we are ignorant or think only of local/parochial interests, we will allow other powerful actors to make foreign policy issues for us.”
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