An Opportunity to Clarify Positions on National Security

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An Opportunity to Clarify Positions on National Security

On Monday, Governor Romney will give his third national security address of the campaign. However, bipartisan voices continue to raise questions about whether Romney has policy specifics, and a vision of America’s role in the world, or only partisan criticism to offer. Monday’s speech is an opportunity for Gov. Romney to clarify his positions and substantive differences with President Obama on many issues.  Here are six:

A vision and specifics for a successful U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
Romney wrote  earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal that America requires “a new strategy toward the Middle East.” Experts across the ideological spectrum point out that Romney has never outlined such a “strategy.” Danielle Pletka, vice president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, framed the questions:  “We need ‘a new strategy toward the Middle East.’ Damn straight. What is it? We do need to restore our ‘credibility with Iran.’ How? Yes, we need to use the ‘full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity’ in the Middle East. What specific tools do you mean? ‘[K]eeping the peace requires American strength in all of its dimensions.’ So true. How?” Additionally conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin says what she is looking for in Monday’s speech: “he can surely stress the point that recklessness is seen in lack of preparation, not acute awareness of our threats.” And as former Middle East Negotiator, who has served under both Democrats and Republicans, Aaron David Miller wrote in response: “Even by the standards of political silly season and in the heat of battle weeks before an election — when exaggeration, obfuscation, and willful distortion become the orders of the day — this article sets a new bar for its vacuity, aimlessness and lack of coherence. There’s nothing ‘new’ in it, and it provides no ‘course for the Middle East.’”

A coherent plan to compete – and cooperate – successfully with China.
In Wednesday’s debate, Romney pledged to, “crack down on China if and when they cheat.” However, as Nina Hachigian, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, has observed, Romney “criticizes President Obama’s record on China. He complains about jobs going to China when, at Bain Capital, he invested in companies that did just that, according to the Boston Globe. He now blasts the president on trade despite the fact that in his book No Apology, he actually does the opposite and criticizes President Obama for being too tough on China.” But the trouble is deeper. As the Financial Times reports, “Mitt Romney’s trust invested in [the Chinese company] CNOOC at a time when the US was growing concerned about the Chinese oil company’s multibillion-dollar dealings with Tehran.”

A Pentagon plan that reflects strategic, fiscal reality.
Romney has proposed spending 4% of GDP each year on the Pentagon, which independent analysts from the Center for a New American Security determined would cost $2.1 trillion dollars over the next decade. Jeffery Vanke, a senior analyst at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has echoed criticism of Romney’s vagueness on domestic deficit reduction: “Romney has listed a few specific cuts he would make in discretionary spending, but they are a fraction of the extra defense spending he proposes.” Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has said the plan fails to “reflect fiscal reality.” Romney advisers have not been able to explain what the U.S. military would do with his proposed additional 100,000 service members or a nearly-doubled rate of naval shipbuilding, or, as Reagan administration Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb noted, “what specific threats prompted him.” American service members and civilians deserve an explanation of what Romney would do with the military he proposes, and how he would pay for it without bankrupting the economy that is the foundation of our national security.

Clear signals on Iran
Today, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that a “rush to war” with Iran could “prove catastrophic.” Since June, Romney’s Iran position has varied from, “I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite” to “I do not believe in the final analysis we will have to use military action.” Romney has also said he agrees with President’ Obama’s “redline” for use of force, adding to the confusion about where exactly he differs. Americans, our allies and our foes all need to hear clearly what Romney believes, and what he would do as president, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Answers to military, intelligence leaders’ objections to bringing torture back.
The New York Times reported last week that Romney’s advisors urged him to “’rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order’ and permit secret ‘enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees.’” Romney needs to explain whether and why he would support measures that are opposed by the military and intelligence leaders who would have to implement them. Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under President George W. Bush, responded, “I think the CIA (and DOD, and the rest of the intelligence community) would firmly resist any resumption of official responsibilities for interrogation techniques that departed a lot from the current settlement… I think the likelihood of a return to waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques is — despite polls and Romney campaign statements – nil.”

Former interrogators have said “enhanced interrogation techniques” do not work. America’s military and national security experts agree that it hurts safety of our troops abroad and America’s security as a whole. As CIA Director General (ret) David Petraeus has said, “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong.” He adds, “Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don’t go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.”

A plan for responding to the attack in Benghazi.
The Romney campaign has launched vociferous assaults on the Administration’s  characterization of the attack, and even claimed that under a Romney presidency the attack would not have occurred. This begs the central question: how would a Romney Administration respond?  Romney wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “We’re not moving them [events] in a direction that protects our people or our allies.” But the Washington Post reports, “The White House has held a series of secret meetings in recent months to examine the threat posed by al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and consider for the first time whether to prepare for unilateral strikes.” The New York Times adds, “The top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is compiling so-called target packages of detailed information about the suspects…the command is preparing the dossiers as the first step in anticipation of possible orders from President Obama to take action against those determined to have played a role in the attack on a diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three colleagues three weeks ago.”

What We’re Reading

Turkey authorized military cross-border operations in response to an apparently errant mortar strike from inside Syria which killed five Turkish civilians.

Afghanistan imposed a cap on U.S. dollar flows across its border with Iran amid clashes between Iranian police and protesters over economic unrest.

Protesters stormed the headquarters of Libya’s national congress, charging that the new prime minister’s proposed government line-up was not representative of the country.

The U.S. State Department amended its terrorist designations to categorize Ansar al Sharia as an alias of Al Qaeda.

A U.S. citizen convicted of links to al Qaeda was sentenced to life in prison by an Iraqi court.

Former Philippines president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was detained on charges of corruption.

Eight people were arrested in Texas on charges of illegally exporting high-tech components to Russian security bodies.

Portugal announced new austerity measures, which were met with a call for a huge strike next month.

Thousands of military police and coast guards in Argentina rallied to protest pay cuts of up to 60%.

Commentary of the Day

Heather Hurlburt asks whether it makes sense to borrow money from China to pay for a military that Pentagon doesn’t want.

Tony Karon discusses the impact of the protests in Iran over the sharp currency drop.

Michael Cohen argues against the claim that national debt is the greatest threat to national security.

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