US Election Note

Head, US and the Americas Programme; Dean, The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs

This paper considers when and how a second-term President Barack Obama or a President Mitt Romney would prioritize the use of force over development assistance, to implement their foreign-policy objectives. 

  • In a second term, President Barack Obama would be likely to continue to focus on the targeted use of force (such as through cyber attacks, drones or Special Forces) rather than larger-scale conventional warfare. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has indicated a desire to expand the conventional military, in particular maritime forces, and for America to take a more assertive military posture. In the coming years, the effect of these different approaches could play out in particular in Iran or Syria.
  • Unlike his predecessor, President Obama has emphasized a less intrusive style of American leadership, with a focus on 'support' rather than 'promotion' (such as with regard to democracy). This distinction would most likely continue in a second term. Given the two distinct and opposing strands in Republican thinking between an assertive America and one that should refocus inwards, it is less clear what kind of US engagement Romney would emphasize.
  • President Obama would probably continue to push for increases in foreign aid and in the 'civilian surge', but this would be difficult to implement in the face of a likely Republican-controlled House (and perhaps Senate). Romney has said little about development assistance, but increases in funding would be unlikely given his party's views. Personal conviction, on the other hand, might lead him to resist the traditional Republican platform.
This paper is part of the US Election Note series.


Download Democratic Response paper here

Janine Davidson 
Professor, George Mason University; US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans (2009-12)

Download Republican Response paper here

James Kunder
Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States