This season's crop of Republican candidates scare me. They appear to be rushing headlong into the 1950s with a Cold War foreign policy and a notion of science that embraces any fossil fuel on the horizon. Most are more belligerent than many of their predecessors and openly toy with an attack against Iran -- and anyone else who gets in our way.
While a Republican candidate or even a Republican president may moderate such views, the national conversation before the election is dangerous at home and abroad and may force Congress to put down more shoot-from-the-hip foreign policy markers. It would be unwise to dismiss them as buffoons.
Alarming is the earth-is-flat crowd that includes every candidate, now that Jon Huntsman has dropped out of the race. Climate change and the necessity of a global shift to a low-carbon economy are NOT in dispute among reputable scientists. (Hopefully a challenge to evolution will not rear its head now that Michele Bachmann is out of the race although Rick Santorum believes in intelligent design and Ron Paul and Rick Perry call it a "theory" out there somewhere.)
The question is what we have to do to ameliorate extreme weather changes and the answers are tough. What kind of pseudo-science are we Americans -- among the top polluters of the planet -- inflicting on our children? (This is not to justify half-hearted steps by the Obama administration but at least these guys understand the science.)
Romney, the frontrunner, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, have flipped on the issue and now talk about drilling more fossil fuels even as the science on global warming and weather disasters grow stronger. "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet," said Romney recently.
But 450 global investors, among them the Bank of America chairman, Charles Holliday, have a different narrative; investments are or should be shifting to energy renewables and energy efficiency, rather than mired in a rust belt of fossil fuels.
Nearly all the candidates endorse the use of military force against Iran and seem to rely on retreads of the Dick Cheney-Donald Rumsfeld school of fire, brimstone, treason and appeasement, to people in this country sick of warfare. Only Jon Huntsman, now out of the race, has a nuanced grasp of the issues (like the international economy) while Ron Paul is getting a lot of grass roots support for a withdrawal of U.S. military adventures but stands little chance of getting the nomination.
"If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon," Romney said. Obama has already pushed sanctions on Iran to the brink but obviously cannot talk about military intervention. (All US governments have such plans in reserve). The administration had wanted to talk to Iran but spent a total of 45 minutes in conversation. Assassinating Iranian scientists (the US? Israel?) will not stop any nuclear development, should the Iranians be serious about a bomb.
Most world leaders want Obama to try diplomacy again although the election campaign will make that difficult. The dangers in Iran should not be underestimated but brinkmanship may not solve the problem, should anyone even know how to hit underground nuclear facilities without some serious "collateral damage" that has already hurt us in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (See Anne Penketh)
No doubt the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like to see some military action against Iran, a constant source of debate within Israel. That Israel should be protected is a given. But the newspaper Haaretz asked, tongue-in-cheek:
"If the Americans are so fearful of "a second Holocaust," and feel that they have exhausted the diplomatic option, will they kindly go into action against Iran themselves? If Obama is opposed to a military solution, then he must stop the duo of Netanyahu and [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, before it is too late."
Netanyahu, himself, has thrown in his lot with the Republicans, addressing Congress and making no secret of his aversion to Obama . By now it is obvious that Netanyahu, with settlers and right wingers a key part of his coalition, does not have any serious plans for a peace process or instituting a moratorium on settlements. And the Palestinians are not happy about talking to anyone, despite the latest peace talks. Without the United States or the Europeans as intermediaries, peace negotiations will go nowhere.
My favorite accusation is that Obama is a European socialist (at least that is a step up from the birther lie that went viral on the Internet). Why are Romney and his colleagues suddenly trouncing our allies? Are there any European conservatives now running Germany, France and Britain who admire our health care system?
So while we are knocking Europeans, here is a leading conservative voice from Britain, usually a staunch supporter of our Republican Party. The Economist magazine wrote in exasperation:
"Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12 million illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46 million people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the "so-called Palestinians", to use Mr. Gingrich's term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished."
Hopefully, in the overseas affairs arena, Republic foreign policy is not an oxymoron.