Tomorrow it is election day. The two candidates have been campaigning for more than six months now. Natural questions for me at this state are: Is Mitt Romney and Barack Obama really that different? What do they want and what have they done already? The Danish Instistute for International Studies held a seminar today (5th of November 2012), where they tried to answer these exact questions. Below I have summed up a few of the points made here.
Ideology and defense strategy
It is surprising that the conclusion in the public debate after the 3rd debate between the candidates was that the candidates had similar defense strategies, because there are differences. One of the major differences between the two presidential candidates is their interpretation of realism. When Romney look at the world he sees a world of states and presidents, whereas Obama sees the world as a network of social media. (Tjalve Schou, Vibeke, DIIS 5/10-12)
But where do the two candidates get their inspiration to these differences in defense strategies from? Obama has primarily found his inspiration in “The Irony of American History”, which was written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1952. The overall idea of the book is to beware of too positive a self-assessment and ideological overweening. According to Schou Tjalve Obama sees all conflicts as a part of a larger net of global links. Therefore cooperation with Netanyahu was rejected due to its infringement with the possibility of flexibility and openness in future conflict resolutions. Obama links this pragmatism with a firm military strategy. Schou Tjalve argues that for Obama military power is a mean to resolutions of problems, not a goal in itself and definitely not something to boast about in the general public. For Romney on the other hand military buildup is important in order to appear powerful on the international scene (Schou Tjalve, Vibeke; September 2012; RÆSON).
War is expensive. Therefore non of the presidential candidates can afford to say that the US shall stay in Afghanistan any longer. In addition they have been constrained by the economic domestic situation. At the time being an ideological legitimization of warfare is not as popular among Americans as before the economic crisis. This constrains the opportunities for Romney to diverge from the strategies of Obama since he presumably will rely on the same advisors as Bush, who might be very focused on this very articulation.
At the 2008 election Obama used a very strong articulation in regards to nation building in Afghanistan. This lasted all the way to December 2009, where the narration changed focus to catching the responsible for 9/11. Obama cut back on everything related to nation building in his rhetoric and introduced the AfPak-strategy, while promising withdrawing from Afghanistan by 2014 (Obama, 1st December 2012). From 2010 an additional shift in the position of United States’ towards Taliban. Before the main focus was integration of those former Taliban foot soldiers, who had only participated in the war due to economic incentives. From 2010 focus on the necessity of dialog with Taliban enhanced. Since the narration on the ideological focus in the warfare had been changed, it was possible to legitimate the negotiations and talks with Taliban. (Kanwal Sheikh, Mona, DIIS 5/11-12)
The primary difference between the candidates lies in what Hans Mouritzen calls their stile (Mouritzen, Hans, DIIS 5/11-12). An example of the difference in stile is found in the 3. presidential debate, when Romney stated that there should be no such thing as an apology tour for the American President like the one he suggested that Obama had carried out when he started his presidency. (See the 3rd debate here)