What about foreign policy?

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This column will appear after the Republican convention and in the middle of the Democratic convention so will not lend itself to a comparison of the parties' foreign policies. But I hope I will come out of watching the Democratic convention in a better humor than the Republican one permitted me.

I confess to having watched almost all of it, with occasional breaks for "Gunsmoke" reruns, Pirates' scores and the local news (to catch up on murders, accidents and other addictive Ptitsburgh mayhem). And at the end of the Republican affair, I was appalled at the party's lack of attention to foreign affairs.

I make no apologies for the fact that international matters have been my primary career interest, as a teacher, U.S. diplomat and, now, columnist and editorialist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. What I don't understand is how Republican leaders managed to ignore foreign policy through three days of videos and speeches.

It is as if they don't realize that we live in an increasingly interdependent world of trade, finance, travel and strategic relationships. Somebody like Mitt Romney, who is supposed to be so smart about business, has to understand this, leaving aside the speculation that he doesn't want to disclose additional tax returns because he was involved in so much activity -- read, tax evasion -- in the Cayman Islands, Andorra, Switzerland and the like.

If I hadn't been worried already, when I undertook the mammoth chore of reading the 2012 Republican Party Platform I discovered to my horror that the foreign policy section is entitled -- I'm not joking -- "American Exceptionalism." Proceeding on the assumption that it is safe to ignore the party platform, even though in principle it is an important statement of what a candidate will do if he achieves power, I looked first at what the party's most important speech makers said about foreign policy.

The longest speech on foreign policy was that of Bush administration National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. My suspicion that she had been given a prime-time speaking slot not because of her expertise on foreign affairs but because the Republicans wanted to show that there were, in fact, prominent African-American and Hispanic females on their roster was borne out by the content of her presentation. It was very thin on foreign affairs beef.

Her claim that if the United States did not lead in foreign affairs then "no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values," made me wonder if someone hadn't forced her to read the "American Exceptionalism" platform plank. Recalling her complicity in President George W. Bush's launching of America into the eight-year war in Iraq on the false premise that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, I wondered if her formulation of America's 2012 posture wasn't frightening evidence of the Republicans not having learned anything since.

Ms. Rice's recitation of "friends and allies" which "must again be able to trust us" -- Israel, Colombia, Poland and the Philippines -- made me wonder if that would not be the sine qua non recipe for a Pentagon-pleasing war in a Romney administration.

The Israelis want to pull us into war with Iran or intervention in Syria to distract us from insisting on a viable Middle East peace agreement between them and the Palestinians. Colombia wants us to continue to help militarily in its internal wars in the name of suppressing drug exports. According to Mr. Romney, we have sold Poland down the river by not installing a missile shield there out of a craven approach to what he considers on questionable grounds to be America's "number one geopolitcal foe," Russia. The Philippines is dying to drag us into a war against China to help it hold onto some bits of rock sticking out of the South China Sea that it claims.

I am squarely against any new wars at this time, believing instead that we should concentrate on building up our economy -- it being America's ultimate strength against all foreign enemies.

Ms. Rice did make some good points on immigration, stating that we should show we are "a compassionate nation of immigrants," and on education, neglect of which, she said, "will endanger our global imperatives for competitiveness."

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the Tea Party's key speaker at the convention, did not include in his remarks any of the sensible foreign-policy views of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. The younger Mr. Paul did say, "Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well spent." We'll see how that approach plays out when it comes to seriously cutting military spending or reducing the national debt.

Mitt Romney pretty much stayed away from foreign issues in his acceptance speech. He touched indirectly on international trade. He inaccurately accused President Barack Obama of having failed to slow Iran's nuclear program, of having thrown allies like Israel under the bus and of relaxing sanctions on Cuba -- a curtsy to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had introduced him at tedious length.

Mr. Romney also asked if Americans were OK with our borrowing a trillion dollars from China, conveniently forgetting that the previous Republican administration borrowed the money to fight the unnecessary war in Iraq and to give undeserved tax cuts to the rich.

The Republican approach to foreign affairs needs a lot of work. At this point it looks "exceptionally" dimwitted to me.


Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (dsimpson@post-gazette.com, 412 263-1976).


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