Obama's advantage: Foreign policy will stay in better hands

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It is worth looking at the question of what difference the victory of President Barack Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney in Tuesday's elections makes in the likely conduct of U.S. international relations over the next four years.

In terms of both treatment of issues with reference to U.S. interests and the persons who would likely be conducting U.S. foreign affairs, it is fair to say that America dodged a bullet with the election of Mr. Obama instead of Mr. Romney.

Mr. Romney's foreign affairs advisers were weak, an odd collection that included neoconservatives, warmongers, one-issue types and eccentrics. They showed their shortcomings in the formulation of the Republican Party platform, the only foreign travel Mr. Romney carried out during the campaign, to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland, and in the Oct. 22 foreign affairs debate. In it he showed himself unaware that Iran isn't landlocked and does not have a border with Syria. That was a startling gap given the central position the Middle East occupies in U.S. foreign policy concerns.

The piece of U.S. foreign policy where Mr. Obama's victory weighs most heavily in significance for Americans is the respective attitudes of the two candidates toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attempted to help Mr. Romney defeat Mr. Obama. What would a Romney victory have meant in terms of Mr. Netanyahu's ongoing attempt, as part of his own electoral campaign, to get the United States to join or support Israel in a military attack on Iran?

Mr. Obama is much more inclined to continue to pursue an attempt to achieve U.S. objectives with Iran -- with halting its attempt to develop nuclear weapons at the top of the list -- through diplomacy, working with the international community, rather than through military force.

Mr. Obama wants the United States to concentrate its resources on rebuilding the U.S. economy and is very much opposed to another Middle Eastern war, with Iraq finished and Afghanistan winding down. Mr. Romney would have taken his alliance with Mr. Netanyahu as the basis for a new U.S./Israel vs. Iran military conflict, regardless of the cost in lives and resources.

Other areas of difference include the real possibility that Mr. Obama will dig his initial effort out of the drawer and try again to put together a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace accord on a two-state basis. He doesn't have to worry anymore about Mr. Netanyahu's trying to mobilize American Jewish voters against him in a presidential campaign.

The two candidates were equally vociferous on China's unfair trade practices. Mr. Romney would not necessarily have dispensed with Mr. Obama's "pivot to Asia" policy, although both would have found it difficult to meet the U.S. Navy's demands for more defense spending to meet what it sees as its shortfall in ships to carry out that policy. Mr. Romney would have had to backpedal from his Russia as top geopolitical foe statement, a retraction that Mr. Obama will not have to make in pursuing decent relations with Russia.

Overall, Mr. Obama's hand on the foreign policy wheel will be much steadier than Mr. Romney's would have been, based on both people and policies.

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