The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008



Republicans' Velvet Glove Approach to Terror

Barack Obama made waves yesterday with the hawkish tone of his speech on terrorism, which, with its pledge to hunt down terrorists in Pakistan without local permission if necessary, seemed designed to counter Hillary Rodham Clinton's claims that he is "naive and irresponsible" when it comes to global threats.

Less noted, though, is that there are the makings of an inverse transformation underway among GOP candidates in the way they are talking about combating terrorism. Since the 2001 attacks, Republicans have tended to mock Democratic calls for increased diplomacy and foreign aid as a way to cut off Islamic extremism at its roots, noting, among other things, that many terrorist plotters tend in fact not to come from the poorest sectors of Muslim countries.

But, based on what's being said on the campaign trail, there appears to be a growing recognition among Republicans that protecting the country may require more than military intervention and that the nation's battered image abroad may in fact be a cause for concern.

Longshot candidate Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin and health and human services secretary, spends much of his time on the trail harping on the need for a major new "medical diplomacy" effort to help rebuild the country's reputation overseas and help head off extremism. "Our foreign policy cannot be based solely on military might. We must reach out to the rest of the world," he declares on his Web site. His proposal "would take America's great doctors and health professionals, along with our medicines and technology, to some of the most distraught places in the world, helping to comfort and nurse the poor to better health. By doing so, we can begin to heal some of the wounds with our global neighbors."

And now, one of the frontrunners is taking a similar line. At a town hall meeting in Iowa on Friday, Mitt Romney offered an eye-catching twist on his usual stump speech when he held up Hezbollah as a model for the effectiveness of using social services as a way to win hearts and minds. "Did you notice in Lebanon what Hezbollah did? Lebanon became a democracy some time ago. And while their government was getting underway, Hezbollah went into southern Lebanon and provided health clinics to some of the people there and schools, and they built their support by having done so," Romney said. "That kind of diplomacy is something that would help America become stronger around the world and help people understand that our interest is an interest toward modernity and goodness and freedom for all people of the world."

In an interview this week, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden sought to put the comments in context, saying the former Massachusetts governor was not intending to praise Hezbollah but simply expounding on a proposal he laid out in an April speech, to launch a "second Marshall Plan" to strengthen the "democratic underpinnings" in places vulnerable to Islamic extremism. Romney would coordinate military power with the "civilian instruments of democracy" by, among other things, assigning a high-profile civilian to each region of the world to integrate American resources in education, health, banking, energy, commerce, law enforcement and diplomacy.
"Essentially, he believes we have to combat the efforts of Hezbollah and Hamas, in making sure that our military and civilian organizations do these things better than the terrorists do," Madden said.

The spread of such talk on the campaign trail is music to the ears of foreign policy and defense heavyweights in both parties who, in an effort organized by the Center for U.S Global Engagement, are urging the candidates to talk more about how they would use non-military means to rebuild the country's image and improve its security. A letter signed last week by, among others, former Republican appointees Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Frank C. Carlucci, James A. Baker III and Tom Ridge, argues that the country must revitalize its "moral leadership" and do more to "strengthen democratic governance, harness economic potential, alleviate global poverty and improve human conditions."

"The U.S. must use smart power -- elevating diplomacy and development assistance while integrating them with our economic policies, defense and intelligence activities," the heavyweights write. "We cannot rely on military power alone to make our nation secure."

--Alec MacGillis

Posted at 6:00 AM ET on Aug 2, 2007  | Category:  Security
Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in | Digg This
Previous: Obama Readies
Faith Forums
| Next: Courtin' the Left and Right:
Roberts Scare Seizes the Trail

Add 44 to Your Site
Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
Get This Widget >>


Please email us to report offensive comments.

What about mental health coverage for our vets!

Posted by: info | August 4, 2007 8:46 PM

Of course the US should be using more of its wealth and technology to address poverty and wealth gaps in many parts of the world, as a major part of restoring our moral leadership. But with best of intentions - which we better be sure about rather than selfserving - that will be very dificult. We certainly have not been good at it so far. To be broadly effective we must learn a great deal more about othe peoples and their world views and to be willing to meet them as equals in the process of change, perhaps as much ours as theirs -- and be patient - one thing for us to learn!

Posted by: alvedge | August 4, 2007 2:33 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company