Campaign Watch 2008

Romney and Realism, Obama and the Zakheim Approach—a close look at the budding foreign policies of two of the leading presidential candidates.

Governor Mitt Romney appears to be taking a page from Henry Nau's appeal to conservatives after the 2004 elections to end internecine strife. In "No Enemies on the Right" (The National Interest, Winter 2004/05), he noted that any successful conservative strategy would require a consensus be forged between realists and neoconservatives, writing, "The two groups ultimately temper one another and generate a conservative engagement strategy that is more selective. This strategy combines geopolitics and support for democracy."
In his contribution to Foreign Affairs, the governor takes a similar position:

"More broadly, lines have been drawn between those labeled ‘realists' and those labeled ‘neoconservatives.' Yet these terms mean little when even the most committed neoconservative recognizes that any successful policy must be grounded in reality and even the most hardened realist admits that much of the United States' power and influence stems from its values and ideals."
The test, however, is whether the governor produces an integrated foreign policy approach (perhaps drawing on Nau's own blueprint for a "balanced" approach that combines realist and neoconservative elements).

Senator Barack Obama says in big print that he wants to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the end of March 2008. But in smaller print, he says, as he did in Chicago this past April:

"[M]y plan provides for an over-the-horizon force that could prevent chaos in the wider region, and allows for a limited number of troops to remain in Iraq to fight al Qaeda and other terrorists."
So he is not a proponent of complete withdrawal, after all.
The devil, of course, is in the details. What is a "limited" number of troops? And where would they "remain in Iraq?"
The numbers the senator has in mind are probably smaller than what a former senior Bush Administration Defense Department official recommended; if for no other reason than political considerations. Dov Zakheim, commenting last year on his thoughts on Iraq, noted that U.S. troops would need to redeploy to the borders to secure the country and to be able to combat terrorist forces, but recommendedbetween 75-80,000 troops for the job. But it does seem that there is some overlap between the two plans for Iraq, although one assumes that a Democratic senator basking in the fervor of the netroots does not want to stress similarities with a leading Republican.

But perhaps a Zakheim-Obama plan would be a bipartisan option for moving forward, with a plan that, as Zakheim wrote, "instead of continuing to commit American blood and treasure to the will o' the wisp that is a ‘democratic' Iraq, it would be far more practical and feasible to focus on the more mundane but also more critical objective of assuring that Iraq no longer is a source of regional instability."
Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.