"We can't kill our way out” : A bipartisan vision for 21st century American foreign policy
October 26th, 2012
10:00 AM ET

"We can't kill our way out” : A bipartisan vision for 21st century American foreign policy

By Jane Harman,  Special to CNN

Editor's note: Jane Harman is the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. She served nine terms as a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from California where she served on the Armed Services, Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. The views expressed here are her own.

In spite of all the hoopla about bayonets and horses during Monday's presidential debate about America's role in the world, Governor Mitt Romney sounded surprisingly like President Barack Obama on the campaign trail four years ago:

"We can't kill our way out of this mess," Romney said. We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world ... reject this radical violent extremism."

Yes! At last, we have two presidential candidates who believe that playing whack-a-mole will never suffice.

As Obama said when he ran for his first term, America is a country "whose strength abroad is measured not just by armies, but rather by the power of our ideals, and by our purpose to forge an even more perfect union at home."

Both candidates consistently made that case on Monday. While partisans panned the debate - and neither side appears to have gained much of an election bounce - I saw it as evidence that we're that much closer to articulating a much-needed bipartisan vision for projecting our values around the world.

Both Romney and Obama seemed to understand that while the U.S. should always carry a big stick, we also need to speak in a way that wins the argument with the teenager who is deciding whether or not to strap on a suicide vest. Doing this requires us to explain and abide by what America stands for: rule of law, opportunity for all, gender equality, economic fairness, religious tolerance, and democratic pluralism.

I was in the auditorium at Lynn University - a place dedicated to educating a diverse student body from 87 nations. Worldwide press, 40% of which was international, was covering the debate. And through a partnership between the Commission for Presidential Debates and the National Democratic Institute, foreign delegations were learning how to develop their own candidate debates.

A perfect teachable moment to showcase (more) civility and comity about America's intentions. Though not as warm or humorous as the Al Smith dinner four days earlier, the candidates performed well for a worldwide audience.

The debate highlighted ways in which our country can and should help the rest of the world, including:

- Providing public and private economic assistance

- Trying to resolve seemingly intractable problems by using diplomatic and economic tools (including sanctions), with use of military force as the very last resort

- Working with allies and regional organizations to internationalize the U.S. role

- With those allies, helping countries to build political capacity

- supporting democratic movements against tyranny

I would also add:

- Building schools and designing fact-based curricula to teach boys and girls

- And aid for recovery from natural disasters

Without more effort to articulate our vision, children around the world associate the U.S. with drones and attack helicopters, which they see when they look up. For the few optimists left on this bleak election canvas - I being one –a common agenda of positive actions gives running room to our next president to improve our optic, and he should move on it promptly.

Maybe, just maybe, the effort began this week: a consensus on initiatives to make alienated kids in failing states think twice about hating America and acting to harm us.

Filed under: Foreign Policy • Opinion • Security Brief
soundoff (45 Responses)
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    very good post, i actually love this web site, carry on it


    February 23, 2021 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  3. icons pack

    Where the world slides?

    November 3, 2012 at 7:03 am | Reply
  4. Dude

    What a bunch of quitters. We haven't really tried killing our way out yet. A war on Islam shouldn't take more than 30 minutes and 4 missiles with 10 independently targeted re-entry vehicles apiece.

    October 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Such is to be expected from someone like you with your right-wing Tea Party mentality, Dude! Is that all you ignoramuses know, kill, kill and kill?! You ought to be ashamed of your self for posting the above!!! I would definately be!

      October 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  5. RQ

    How many ways can Romney agree and disagree on the same topic?

    October 29, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
  6. Phoenix

    It is soothing to listen to Romney agree with the President on some very important issues like foreign policy. I was getting very worried with Romney's bashing of Russia, threatening trade with China and what amounted to war talk on Iran. As for the economy although the recovery is slow i reckon thats the best path for the US. The economy has been stabilised from the Bush era and Obama team seem to have done their homework on economic fundamentals. Romney's plan is unenforceable, if he wins the election he is gonna continue Obama's plan because from an economic perspective his economic advisers will tell him in private that his won't work. The other thing i think other world leaders are more comfortable working with Obama. That America will have more muscle under Romney is like saying America had more muscle under the previous President, unless by more muscle you mean being bully and picking up fights with every Jack and Jill with a constant stream of American soldiers corpses.

    October 29, 2012 at 4:29 am | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      Yes, I noticed that too.
      Romney backed off on repealing Obama care.
      Foreign policy is in sync per the last debate,

      If Joe Biden was not around Romney would make a good Vice President for Obama.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  7. Elijah

    Yeah go ahead and send your first born off to another pointless war...like the USSR you too will end up bankrupt of money and democracy....what a waste ...

    October 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      Well said, Elijah. Our involvement in Afghanistan is nothing but a big, fat folley but the general public is just too dumb to see that and that is disgusting!

      October 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Reply
    • noname

      I think we really could with a little commitment.

      October 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
      • Quigley

        Thanks, noname. With just a little comittment we can be out of Afghanistan almost overnight! We need to rename Afghnistan "Bush's Follie" or is that Iraq where people are killing each other almost constantly? It's hard to tell.

        October 28, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  8. Ellie P


    October 28, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
    • Quigley

      The same happens to me too Ellie P, the reason being that my posts are very seldom politically correct. Everone has a right to have their opinion displayed whether it's PC or not!

      October 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
      • Bgerrdeswasw

        Actually, posting hereis not a matter of right. If you are thinking first amendment, go learn what it means first.

        October 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  9. George Patton

    Let's get both the Karzai regime and the Taliban to the negotiating table in order to find a graceful way out of Afghaistan instead of us just butchering these people like pigs in a pen, day after day! Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are truly a national disgrace over Afghanistan!!! Neither have any sense of humanity!

    October 28, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply
  10. Mary-Anne

    Jane, you're kidding right?
    Obama nonpartisan?
    He is the most partisan president the US has had to endure and doesn't have a clue about a big stick. Look at how he mishandled Benghazi.

    October 28, 2012 at 2:32 am | Reply
    • Reality

      Yes Romney the non-47% President is most nonpartisan , right ?

      October 28, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
      • Mary-Anne

        Look at his record! Look at Obama's record! He disses everyone who doesn't agree with, and kowtow, to him. (including the supreme court)

        A leader unites...there are always things both parties can agree on.

        Bragging about spending 24 up to campaign....well it's obvious what's important to Obama!

        October 28, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  11. mipolitic

    obama failed Americans in Lbya , and followed through with a cover up that was supported by a apology campaign for being America.

    Vote for a strong America , vote Romney

    October 28, 2012 at 2:06 am | Reply
    • Reality

      If you want to vote for right wing BS than vote for Romney.

      October 28, 2012 at 10:28 am | Reply
  12. George Patton

    it's time we need to bomb our way out, faster and cheaper too!

    October 27, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Reply
    • Reality

      Yes Bomb all warmongers.

      October 28, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Sorry folks, I never posted the above. It looks like Phunnie boy's at it again, trying to make me look like an ignorant, warmongering Tea Partier. Just ignore the above post. I say, let's just pull out of there like the Russians did back in 1989!!!

      October 28, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
  13. CharlieSeattle

    Romney supports Obama's foreign policy.

    Romney agrees Obama care should stand as is.

    If Joe Biden was not around Romney would make a good Vice President for Obama!

    October 27, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  14. J

    I don't want to play whack-a-mole. I want to turn the whole region into a glass plate. Just get it over with.

    October 27, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
    • Reality

      The whole north American region.

      October 28, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
  15. thumbsihave2

    Obvious. So, what are there specific plans and timeline for implementing such? I fear the battle upon Islamofascism is taking our attention from more pressing security concerns.

    October 27, 2012 at 7:24 am | Reply
  16. bigteacherinasia

    I think people are making too big of deal out of Romney's statement: "We can't kill our way out of this."

    This statement was crafted by Romney's advisers as a rebuttal to Obama's success with dictators Khadaffi and Osama Bin Laden. The statement was crafted to make Romney look a little more humanitarian in the foreign policy debate and not actually praise the president for this accomplishment. A brilliant political move by his advisers.

    As this was merely a political move, it complete and utter bu#@&^it, not to be trusted. Romney, like Obama, supports the use of drones and 5 of his 6 major foreign policy points are exactly the same as Obama's.

    October 27, 2012 at 6:10 am | Reply
    • Frank

      Yeah! Maybe we can't "kill our way out of this"; but we can sure give it a good try! My friends need to grow their military supply business. An outbreak of peace would destroy the economy (of my friends).

      October 28, 2012 at 12:16 am | Reply
  17. 200 TON HAMMER

    Elijah second comeing he deal with Islam

    October 27, 2012 at 5:09 am | Reply
  18. RetiredVet

    With three debates finished, has Obama ever said what his plan is for the next four years if he's re-elected?

    October 27, 2012 at 12:05 am | Reply
    • joe

      Yes actually. Pay attention.

      October 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  19. Terrible-Ted

    We can kill our way out of this. It just requires the use of nuclear weapons so we can steralize this portion of the Earth. The people of this region of the world have been fighting each other and everyone else since the dawn of mankind. The people are genetically predisposed to causing mayhem. Time to do away with the defective genes they carry forever.

    October 26, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
    • asdf

      including israel

      October 28, 2012 at 1:12 am | Reply
    • Truth

      The North America has been attacking many other countries in world since last 2 centuries its time to get rid of such countries from the world.

      October 28, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
  20. helenecha

    America is a country "whose strength abroad is measured not just by armies, but rather by the power of our ideals, and by our purpose to forge an even more perfect union at home."

    Oh, yes, Obama did recognize that America is not easy, but that blame on those perfect hopes whatever is not an option. No great strategy has received more success and luck than it is built under the reliable hopes. Does President Obama agree with that?

    October 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  21. Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

    Expect nothing better but mayhem among humanity by following of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, Allah, and following of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism, neither commanded, nor allowed in Islam as a religion, but Theen Allah, consti tution of truth absolute.
    hindu Mithra ism, savior ism invented little over 100 years after Sydana Mohammad pbh by tribes of Kujar of north Africa and imposition as Fatmid Khalaphit by force by denial of Hidth and Quran, justified by hindu Judaism, pagan secularism to impose hinduism, racism by hindu, fabricated relationship with Family of Syadana Mohammad pbh to justify existence of hindu criminal Kings, a violation of fundamental commandment, human equality under the LA. truth absolute Allah. Cause of conflict among Muslim's and cause of down fall of Muslim's and Islam in Spain.

    Sunisim, invented by Turk's by corruption of Quran and hidth to justify existence of hindu King's as Khalipha, after death of Ruler Mohammad, but later renamed, Mehmmat, wisdom of spirit of truth by siblings from his Armenian wife, follower of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism in 13th century.

    Christianity, invented by hinduism,. corruption of truth absolute by hindu Pharisees, pagan self centered, follower of hindu filthy pig ism by corrupted Torah, known as Greek Torah, translated and commented by Ben Asheer in 250 AD in Yiddish, secularist, self centered language, also known as Old Testament, part of book of Mithra ism labeled as Bible. A way to justify hindu criminal Kings and self proclaimed Prophets, fortune tellers as god's to rule over humanity.

    JUDAISM, Self center ism, pig ism, or Atheism, invented by hindu's pagan's of Egypt by corruption of truth absolute in Torah to Justify hindu pagan Pharaoh's and their hindu pagan Santans, goons as god's to rule over humanity with impunity.


    October 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      don't expose yourself.

      October 27, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  22. George Patton

    Instead of "killing our way" out of Afghanistan, how just getting out like the Russians did back in 1989? It sounds good to me!!!

    October 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply
  23. Shawn Irwin

    Well it is no morethan talk when you say these things, then send more troops to Afghanistan . . . .

    October 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  24. OffTheWorldPolitics

    "After a decade of war, it's time to do some nation building here at home," Does that mean we are done building things for people who do not appreciate it? I think it does. I think this drone campaign is part of a new strategy of cost effective warfare. At first I understood the need for winning hearts and minds. However, after a resurgent Al Qaeda, continued Taliban resistance, and regular green on blue attacks I have changed my view. We have done enough for the Afghans at the expense of the American public. Less carrots, more sticks...

    October 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply

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