The Romney Road Map Will Get Us Lost
Twenty-four hour news brings the world’s troubles to us instantly. The world was always like this. The difference today is we hear of events on the other side of the globe instantly rather than days later. The news overload makes it easy for the average American to be made to feel paranoid about America’s security and future. If you listen to Gov. Mitt Romney, you would believe America is in retreat in every quarter of the world, and he’s the man to halt it. However, looking past the campaign vitriol, Gov. Romney, when forced to give specifics, has largely adopted the President’s foreign and national security policy stances, while his differences are wholly rhetorical. What Romney asks Americans to believe when voting is that he can produce drastically different results from the President while instituting the same policies. It simply isn’t believable.
On the trail and in the debates Gov. Romney went after President Obama on Iran, claiming they’re now four years closer to nuclear weapons. Yet, he has been unable to articulate what he would have done- or do now- that differs from President Obama. He has criticized sanctions as too slow and ineffective. He claimed he would not have let China and Russia veto the U.S. from taking action. What sanctions would Gov. Romney have implemented that the President hasn’t already done? How would he have bypassed or changed Russia and China’s positions? How would Romney have achieved a better result? What carrots or big sticks would he have used? The bigger question is if Mitt Romney were in the White House now- or will be next year- would America be at war in Iran? Romney has offered no specifics on where his actions would differ, and what he has offered mirrors what the President is already doing, just making it sound as if it is new or different.
Where Romney has differed with the President is in his support of giving firm commitments to Israel to support their military action against Iran’s nuclear program. For a candidate who speaks often of America’s need to lead the world from the front, being pressured into giving a blank check to Israel, the junior partner in the relationship, does not represent America as a leader. When the U.S. sends its troops to war, especially when they’re already at war elsewhere, it is necessary that our Commander In Chief decides and not some other nation. Our President draws our ‘redlines’.
Romney has criticized the President’s Middle East policy as a whole, naming the Arab Spring and Syria as examples of it ‘unravelling’. He attempted to hang the albatross of Benghazi on the President, but he was called out on it in the second debate and investigations have failed to reveal a ‘Benghazi-gate’. Gov. Romney has been forthcoming with criticism but very vague on details. How would a President Romney have altered events in a half-dozen Maghreb states? If the despots formerly controlling these countries, indigenous political factions, Islamists, and regional powers in the Middle East couldn’t predict nor alter their outcomes how could the U.S., and especially Mitt Romney, have done so?
Looking at the list of Gov. Romney’s advisors, it’s not hard to see where he gets this unrealistic, hubristic view of what the U.S. can do to control events in other countries. This is what Romney means when he speaks of ‘shaping’ events. Romney’s advisors are a roster of former Bush administration officials who engineered the poor, unfocused, drifting policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. It isn’t too great a leap to assume that many of these advisors will be appointed to a Romney administration, and America will get a replay of the same bad foreign and national security policy arguments roundly rejected in 2008.
Romney’s views on what the U.S. can ‘shape’ in other countries reveal that he seems not to know the difference between what America would like to see happen and what America can actually make happen. America does have a great deal of influence in the world, but there is a great difference between influence and control. Mitt Romney would have the American people believe the President can control events in hundreds of other sovereign states and is to blame for everything that happens during his tenure. If bad things happen, it’s because the President didn’t prevent them. This is an almost comically naïve and overestimated view of the power of the U.S. Presidency. Our national leaders have trouble ‘shaping’ events here in America, let alone in other countries.
Romney speaks of seeking to achieve the great goals of peace, prosperity, and stability in the world. It’s easy to say where you want to go, but harder to say how you’re going to get there. The former is rhetoric and the latter is policy. Specific policy differences to achieve results better than the President are wholly absent from Mitt Romney’s campaign. He won’t be able to achieve his goals on force of personality. His campaign trip to Europe and the Middle East didn’t reveal a leader able to charm or finesse foreign leaders or publics into going his way. He still has trouble articulating who our number one geopolitical foe is. He hasn’t impressed the troops or veterans by forgetting them in his major speeches and his support for an increase in military spending the military hasn’t asked for smacks of pandering to his base.
Foreign affairs and national security policy are the two primary duties of the President. Romney doesn’t have any previous experience in these areas, offers little in the way of specifics on policy, and what stances he has taken differ only semantically from the President, though he doesn’t let this stand in the way of criticizing policy he actually supports. A promise from Mitt Romney to the American people to deliver dramatically better results from the same policies is simply not believable. He’s a man with a far destination in mind, but offering no road map to get there. That’s a recipe for getting lost.
Chris Miller is a Truman Security Fellow