Failures to connect: Candidates, foreign policy and the media

Oh hooray. CNN, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute will co-sponsor a GOP debate on foreign policy.

I can just imagine what will be said:

  • I stand with Israel and against Iran
  • I will strengthen our defense.
  • I will withdraw our troops from Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as possible/feasible.
  • I will make America a leader again.
  • I will stop illegal immigration

Wow! Guess that covers the whole range if foreign policy issues. Now I feel better.

Yes, I am cynical about the way foreign affairs is being discussed. This field has been a vital part of my life  since 1979. And I am distressed that the issue gets its proper due in national policy debates.

Don’t get me wrong. I really understand that domestic issues drive campaigns. I understand that what is nearest to the voters — ie jobs — is what is dearest. But that is just the problem. Foreign policy issues are near to every American, they just don’t know it.

Yep, this is the old “Local-Global” thing again.

In world today there is no such thing as splendid isolation. (Well, North Korea is isolated but it is hardly splendid.)

Americans make and sell products all over the world. And, of course, we buy from all over the world. Our economy relies on international trade as much as it does domestic trade. But you rarely hear that. Not from the candidates and not from the media.

A New York Times editorial from Oct. 18 sums up what the GOP candidates have said so far about foreign affairs:

For a while, we were concerned that the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were not saying much about national security and foreign affairs. Now that a few have started, maybe they were better off before.

Mitt Romney recently put out a beautiful White Paper and gave a “big” speech on foreign policy. He even — unlike any of his opponents — mentioned Latin America. Unfortunately, he focused on all the wrong things.

Al Jazeera Brazilian correspondent Gabriel Elizondo picked up on what Romney said and didn’t say about Latin America:

  • Number references to ‘Venezuela,’ ‘Cuba.’ or ‘Cuban’: 3
  • Number of references to “Bolivarian”: 2
  • Number of references to “Hezbollah”: 2 (in the Latin America section only).
  • Number of references to Iran: 2 (in the Latin America section only).
  • Number of references to former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: 2
  • Number of times the word ‘terrorist,’ terrorism,’ or ‘terrorists,’ was used: 8 (in the Latin America section only).
  • Number of times the words ‘drug,’ ‘traffickers,’ ‘violent,’ ‘death,’ ‘mayhem,’ ‘gangs,’ ‘criminal,’ ‘authoritarianism,’ ‘socialist,’ ‘crime,’ ‘decay,’ ‘cartels,’ ‘cartel,’ ‘narco,’ ‘illegal,’ ‘infiltration,’ were used in some form, based on my rough count: 26
  • The number of times the word “Brazil” was used: 0. Yes, as in, zero.

My immediate reaction to this paper was the same as Elizondo:

In 2011, writing an overview of Latin America without even mentioning Brazil is sort of like an analysis on the GOP presidential primary field front-runners and not mentioning, well, Romney.

And Romney has some heavy hitters on his foreign policy team that know better, such as a couple former US ambassadors to Brazil.

Oh, and by the way, NOT ONE U.S. media outlet looked at this and made similar comments.

Latin America should be a major concern for the United States on so many levels. But the candidates so far seem only focused on building a big electrified fence along America’s southern border.

And what about foreign aid? So far, what I have heard is that it should be cut.

Maybe these Republicans need to weigh in on the debate in a more aggressive manner:

I am betting you won’t be hearing anything like this in the GOP/CNN/HF/AEI debate.

As the video points out, foreign aid is not so much aid as it is an investment.

American jobs are first created when USAID or NGOs send experts or equipment out as part of a development package.

  • With economic growth in the developing world, demand for goods not readily available from local manufacturers increases. And the closest big place to provide those goods in the USA.
  • With economic development also comes a greater awareness of the need for stronger civic organizations.
  • With stronger civic groups come stronger and more transparent democratic governments.
  • And with better economies and stronger, more secure democratic governments citizen security improves. And the criminal life  — such  gangs and cartels — becomes less attractive.

All in all, more serious attention to development issues in Latin America pays off better than Cold-War bluster.

And that goes for Africa as well. The aid and support the Bush 43 administration gave to fighting AIDS and other infectious diseases in Africa is a good example of how to get a positive impact with a serious approach to an issue.

I really don’t expect the candidates to include in their platforms an increase for the State Department budget or even for them to come out in favor of foreign aid. But that just adds to the ignorance of the situation.

FYI: LESS THAN 1% of the federal budget goes to ALL non-military foreign activities. That includes the salaries of ALL  US diplomats, the maintenance and operation of ALL the embassies and consulates and ALL the development aid programs.  Most Americans think the number is 25%. And a majority think 5% is about the right amount.

It would be nice if the American news organizations would look at what the candidates say they would do about international affairs. But that means looking at the whole picture. Not just Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. And not just immigration or the Greek economic meltdown.

SIDEBAR: You know some of the reporting a few weeks back on the Greek situation was very close to getting that connection. The networks reported that Morgan Stanley was in trouble because it held a large number of shares of German banks that in turn held a lot of Greek paper. Where the reports failed to connect with the non-foreign policy/financial geeks is taking the step from Morgan Stanley (Wall Street) to how that might affect local banks or companies (Main Street).

Maybe if reporters looked at the connections to Main Street, then maybe foreign affairs would not appear so…foreign.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

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