By Alexander George
This year’s presidential election is clearly centred on the economy. Yet, foreign policy challenges loom in the background. Tensions with Iran, violence in Syria, the continuing Eurozone debt crisis and instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan are some of the obvious issues which could magnify between now and November and become an important part of the presidential debate. Mitt Romney’s CV has a strong economics focus (Bain Capital, Salt Lake City Olympics, Governor of Massachusetts) which is well suited to America’s biggest domestic challenge. Though Romney seems well informed about foreign affairs, he possesses little policy experience in this area. He may, therefore, consider choosing a running mate who does (Joe Biden’s post as Chair of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee was one of the reasons why Barack Obama chose him in 2008). The Republican ticket would then be able to send out a message that it covers both the economy and foreign policy.
There are several figures who stand out for their impressive foreign policy credentials but may not be the best pick for electoral reasons. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice topped a poll of Republican leaning voters commissioned by CNN in April. However, (notwithstanding the fact that Rice has largely withdrawn from politics), Romney is unlikely to choose someone so closely linked with the Bush administration: it offers Obama an opening that the Republicans will take the country back to the Bush years. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and presidential candidate this election cycle, possesses a wealth of foreign policy experience having served as Ambassador to China and Singapore and the Deputy US Trade Representative. Yet, the presence of two Mormons on the ticket is unlikely to go down well with the Republican Party’s social conservative wing. Richard Lugar has twice served as Chair of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and is currently the senior Republican on this body. Nevertheless, he is a spent force electorally having lost the Republican primary for Indiana’s Senate race this year and at 80 is probably too old for the job.
The most cited vice-presidential contenders are Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell. Most of these are sitting or former governors with little experience of foreign policy. If one wants a candidate with some involvement in this area, the choice narrows down to Portman and Rubio.
Portman (a senator from Ohio) served as the US Trade Representative during George Bush’s second term and was responsible for negotiating bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. He sits on the Senate’s Armed Services committee and has recently travelled to Afghanistan and the Middle East.
It may seem strange to include Rubio in the category of candidates with foreign policy acumen considering that the 41 year old has only been in the Senate for two year,m having come straight from Florida’s House of Representatives. Yet, the simple fact is that Rubio has developed an impressive foreign policy profile during his brief Senate career. As a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, he has travelled widely to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Libya and Germany and regularly displays his thought leadership on foreign affairs in articles and speeches. Joe Lieberman, the veteran Democrat turned Independent senator (who was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000), has described Rubio as ‘a rising star in the next generation of America’s foreign policy leaders.’ Rubio’s youth, charisma and Hispanic background have propelled him amongst the leading candidates to be the Republican vice-presidential nominee this year.
The foreign policy knowledge he has acquired may just give him the edge.
Editor’s Note: Alexander George is the founder of Generation 2 Generation, a political salon for young professionals interested in current affairs. A qualified lawyer, he has worked on congressional and gubernatorial races in the United States. Follow him on Twitter: @AA_George1