Foreign Policy or Domestic Posturing?
Foreign policy in the 21st century is more than massive firepower; it’s the adroit use of defense, diplomacy, and development. Two weeks ago at the Clinton Global Initiative, and Monday at Virginia Military Institute, Gov Mitt Romney began to discuss his views on foreign policy.
In short, Romney accused President Obama of a rudderless foreign policy and repeated his claims that the threat of conflict in the Middle East is greater than it was four years ago. Both speeches were essentially efforts to offer up himself as a reasonable alternative to Obama as a world leader and reduce Obama’s lead in foreign policy issues.
Except there are no substantive differences except for one. Romney would arm Syrians, Obama is already doing so; Romney emphasizes working with Libyan citizens – as does Obama. Afghanistan? Romney would delay withdrawing the troops until after the 2015 spring fighting season, so his plan differs from Obama’s by perhaps six months, and while Romney claims he’d ‘stand up’ to China, Obama has already (and quietly) sent 2,000 Marines to Australia and re-deployed three of our massive nuclear aircraft carriers to the Pacific. Iran? Without any specifics, Romney claims he would impose “more severe sanctions” than Obama, while not acknowledging that Obama’s oil boycott has world-wide support and caused a 300% drop in the value of the Iranian currency in the last twelve months (12,000 Rials to 37,500 Rials).
The sole significant difference between a Romney foreign policy and that of President Obama is in how each views the world and America’s role in it.
The international arena today is far different than post WWII when the United States was the sole superpower, and Romney will be surprised how many heads of state will find his goal “to use America’s great influence—wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively—to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better..” demeaning, intrusive, and often at odds with their own values.
The new president of Egypt, for example, is a US-educated PhD and member of the Muslim Brotherhood –a democratically elected Muslim leader whose first moves were to limit the strength of the Egyptian military. Vladimir Putin is a favorite Romney target due to Russia’s support of Syria’s Assad even as he supports US sanctions against Iran, opened the Trans-Siberia Railroad, so we and NATO could break the Pakistani stranglehold on supplying our troops in Afghanistan –and is America’s # 10 oil supplier. Spain, whose economic policy Romney insulted last week, has 1,500 soldiers in Afghanistan as an active member of NATO.
While it may be harsh to say Governor Romney doesn’t grasp how complicated the world is today, he also doesn’t appear to understand that an effective foreign policy is a blend of hard and soft power. It’s said that few battle plans survive the first contact with the enemy; if he sat down with the various (mostly western-educated) Arab leaders who are trying to balance voter factions ranging from moderates to extremists – he’d discover that the same is true of foreign policy.
Professor Andrew Lubin is a Truman Security Fellow