09/07/2012 05:59 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2012

Republican Foreign Policy: An Easy Act to Follow?

The Republican National convention gave no indication that Mitt Romney would improve upon a Republican approach to foreign policy that landed the United States in two wars and lost ground to China and Russia. At the Democratic national convention, hoopla over the current administration's amelioration of some of the mess might have been justified, but the party should be measured about its chest thumping. Beating the village idiot at Trivial Pursuit doesn't mean you're getting a scholarship to Princeton. Successes have been slender, and may turn out to be ephemeral.

Thankfully, extrication from Iraq has virtually ended the loss of American lives there, but what have we left behind? Withdrawal was based on a template devised by the Rand Corporation familiar mainly to policy wonks. There were pre-conditions, among them an inclusive Iraqi government and fair distribution of oil revenue. Virtually none of the requirements were met, but an exhausted United States left anyway. Iraq holds on to civil order by its fingernails, and has repeatedly betrayed us in supporting Iran in Syria, as well as by helping Iran to evade United Nations sanctions. The truth is that we're best done with the Iraqis, and should end military cooperation.

The Afghan morass is coming to an end sooner than the Republicans and our generals would like. More than two thousand lives later, we are unlikely to leave Afghanistan better than we found it. The Obama administration is to be thanked for the accelerated withdrawal, but not for the plan to leave behind significant numbers of special forces to train the Afghan army, who will become targets for infiltrating insurgents. This could become Vietnam in reverse, with the troops leaving and the advisors remaining with the burden and the risk, made worse by a Pakistan problem that has been completely beyond administration capabilities.

Israel remains a problem child. Our one true ally in the Middle East, its failure to settle the Palestinian issue and its military threats against Iran keep us embarrassed and terrified in turn. The current administration has been no better in leveraging American aid to get Israeli cooperation than have previous administrations.

Iran remains defiant. This writer is still skeptical that, short of a catastrophic war, Iran can be kept from doing whatever it is going to do with its nuclear program. The administration should have mapped a clearer strategy that plans for the worst, but that doesn't include yet another military adventure.

Other than arm sales to assorted bad guys, Russia is Europe's problem. As long as a concerted Europe fails to mount a serious effort to break Russia's stranglehold on continental energy, Russia will call the tune. A more aggressive administration energy policy might have allowed us to help with this.

China has thumbed its nose right to the end of the administration's term. It remains defiant about Syria, trade, and copyright theft. Probably the administration's most ludicrous gesture is increased military posturing aimed at restraining likely Chinese dominance in the Western Pacific. It will occur anyway because of Chinese patience, proximity, and because there really isn't anyone in the region over whom we're likely to fight a war.

The administration's greatest success has been to sharply reduce American casualties overseas, and this alone merits all the kudos we can heap upon it. But it has yet to prove that it can surmount an American tendency toward sloppy foreign policy based on our refusal to give adequate weight to dealing with the nuances and requirements of other cultures; our "here's our best offer up front" negotiating style; and our over-reliance on a superb military.