#RealityDoesntExist Is a Dangerous Foreign Policy
This past college basketball season, fans of the national champion Kentucky Wildcats dialed up their in-state rivalry with the hated Louisville Cardinals – by ignoring them. A “Louisville Doesn’t Exist” campaign was started, which quickly caught on and made its way to Twitter, morphing into the popular hashtag: #LouisvilleDoesntExist.
In the context of intense sports rivalries, this is clever. But that cleverness doesn’t translate to foreign policy, where failing to acknowledge realities has serious implications. Unfortunately, the foreign policy vision espoused thus far by the presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney can best be summed up as: #RealityDoesntExist.
Recent news reports have pointed to Romney’s increasingly hawkish stances, but his hard line hasn’t always been right on. For example, his bluster on Iran conflicts with recent American and allied assessments that the threat of Iran building a nuclear bomb is not imminent. Similarly, his threats to label China a currency manipulator and his dubbing of Russia as the America’s “No.1 geopolitical foe” have been questioned by experts and some of his own supporters and advisors alike.
Yet, Romney’s foreign policy positions are further fortified by Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan. The Ryan budget projects a foreign policy vision in which 21st threats are solved exclusively by the military: it increases defense funding but cuts important diplomatic and development tools that are invaluable to America’s success abroad. In effect, the Ryan budget is akin to raising the salary of a star player, but not wanting to pay to field the best team to play with him. Although this is not a realistic plan for the challenges that lie ahead, Romney has embraced it.
The foreign policy landscape has changed, even in the last four years. Since 2008, the U.S. has used its defense, diplomatic, and development tools to – name a few – kill Osama bin Laden, end military operations in Iraq, increase international pressure on Iran, and refocus toward Asia. We still face wide-ranging national security and foreign policy challenges, from dealing with a changing Middle East to cyber security. While there is certainly room for debate for different approaches to these issues, they are too complex to be solved simply by crafting a reactive “Anybody But Obama” brand of foreign policy. In fact, that takes us even farther away from doing so.
Moreover, the U.S. doesn’t need to unnecessarily offend important players that we have to work with on important issues, whether we like them or not. As a businessman, Romney should understand this well. But that is what his foreign stances could ultimately wind up doing on the world stage. A recent Associated Press article summed up the problem:
“The tough talk drives home Romney’s criticism that Obama is an apologist for America, soft on its enemies and too forgiving of its friends. It’s a message that might resonate with Republican voters, who sometimes tend to be wary of the rest of the world. It also raises questions about whether the rhetoric could damage U.S. relations abroad in the event that the former venture capitalist and Massachusetts governor wins the White House.”
And, as Vice President Biden noted in a recent speech, Romney’s “loose talk” could hurt us and help our adversaries, most notably with regard to Iran where such rhetoric could drive oil prices up and ultimately help “Iran’s coffers fill up.”
Some have suggested that Romney’s hawkishness is just par for the course – he must tack toward the party base in the primary, but will move back to the center in the general election. But given the height of Romney’s rhetoric and a budget blueprint that bolsters that rhetoric, it may be difficult for him to move back to the center, even if he wants to. Sometimes, the stronger your words and actions, the harder it is to take them back.
After Kentucky beat Louisville again, in this year’s Final Four, some used the hashtag #LouisvilleDoesntExist #Still to celebrate the victory on Twitter. Let’s hope that this current Republican vision of foreign policy doesn’t persist as #RealityDoesntExist #Still into the Fall and beyond.
Jessie Daniels is a Truman Security Fellow.