Romney Foreign Policy: No Ideas, Bad Advice
This week the presidential campaign returns to foreign policy, as both President Obama and Governor Romney speak to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Romney travels to the London Olympics, Israel and Poland. As Romney visits former colleagues and holds fund-raisers, Americans will be listening for the coherent worldview and specific policy alternatives that partisan and non-partisan observers alike have found lacking to date. Specific positions Romney has taken, such as opposing the drawdown timetable in Afghanistan, the ratification of the New START treaty, or labeling Russia as America’s number one geopolitical foe, have drawn concern from national security leaders in the U.S. and our European allies, asking whether they represent a return to failed Bush-Cheney policies. As Romney and his party work to define themselves, President Obama’s foreign policy performance and decision-making continues to have strong support among both experts and the public.
Romney has yet to express a coherent worldview; positions he has taken are radical, out of touch with mainstream experts. Earlier this month, Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reported, “The candidate himself [Mitt Romney] has given sporadic clues to what a President Romney foreign policy would look like. During his first run for the White House, he avoided the major issue of that campaign season, the war in Iraq. He never came out against the troop surge of 2007 and 2008, but he also studiously avoided talking much about it… Romney’s relative quiet on the foreign-policy front has fueled criticism that he lacks a clear vision.” This criticism has come from within his own party as well. As one unnamed GOP foreign policy expert told Politico, “we have yet to see him [Romney] present his vision for America’s role in the world more broadly (except in really generic talking points)… The country needs and expect a coherent critique from Romney of Obama’s foreign policy and a layout of his vision for the future as well.”
Observers note that his strongest views are far outside the national security mainstream. Responding to the comments that Russia was America’s number one geopolitical foe, Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell said, “c’mon Mitt, think. It isn’t the case…There is no pure competitor to the United States of America.” And Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations notes, “He ain’t going to Afghanistan because he doesn’t want to say that he’ll slow down the troop withdrawal process.” Slate columnist Fred Kaplan writes in a recent column, “in this election in particular, Mitt Romney’s statements on foreign policy range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous. Does Romney believe the things that he’s said about arms control, Russia, the Middle East, the defense budget, and the rest? Who can say? He has no experience on any of these issues… While not all presidents wind up following their advisers, Romney has placed his byline atop some of his coterie’s most egregious arguments—not least, several op-ed pieces against President Obama’s New START with Russia, pieces that rank as the most ignorant I’ve read in nearly 40 years of following the nuclear debate.” [Eli Lake, 7/2/12. Colin Powell, 5/24/12. Leslie Gelb via NY Times, 7/21/12. Politico, 7/8/12. Fred Kaplan, 6/29/12]
Non-partisan observers say Romney’s views boil down to criticism without specifics or alternatives. The Associated Press previews Romney’s trip by saying he “has defined his foreign policy largely in terms of his opponent,” telling an evangelical Christian group in June, “I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite.” But Romney has not thus far specified what the opposite would look like, as the AP further notes: “Israel is just one of the areas where Romney has drawn sharp contrasts with Obama without always outlining a clear alternative. He’s done that with a series of international events, including a crisis over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and a hot-mic comment Obama made to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.”
Doug Mataconis of Outside the Beltway raised similar concerns on Romney’s Syria rhetoric in May: “Mitt Romney took time… to criticize the President’s policy toward the regime of Bashar Assad but, in the end, he doesn’t offer a coherent alternative… the reality of the situation seems to suggest that there’s very little that Romney would be doing differently if he were in the Oval Office right now, at least not if he wanted to act responsibly… It’s not surprising that Romney would bash the President over his response to Syria, but voters should recognize that the former Massachusetts Governor is not offering a viable alternative to current policy.” [AP, 7/20/12. OTB, 5/30/12]
Hawkish rhetoric, lack of substance, presage a return to failed Cheney-Bush policies. Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations describes Romney’s foreign policy as “a little bit George W. Bush 2.0… The brand of foreign policy that he has been articulating is not a brand that’s welcome in Europe.” Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, further explains in Foreign Policy that Governor Mitt Romney’s foreign policy proposals, “promise to return us to the discredited doctrines and reckless policies of the George W. Bush administration… the policies that Romney has advocated — like indefinitely leaving our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example — are continuations of the Bush-Cheney doctrine, version 2.0.” He adds, “Out of Romney’s 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration. If Romney were to win, it’s likely that many of these people would serve in his administration in some capacity — a frightening prospect given the legacy of this particular group. The last time they were in government, it was disastrous. For example, one of Romney’s top surrogates on the campaign trail is John Bolton, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton embodies the reckless neoconservative thinking that was largely responsible for getting us into Iraq under false pretenses. Today, he openly roots for diplomacy with Iran to fail and is all-too-eager to send our men and women in uniform into war… A Romney presidency promises to take us back to something all too familiar: a Bush-Cheney doctrine — equal parts naïve and cavalier — which eagerly embraces military force without fully considering the consequences. That ‘attack now and figure it out later’ mindset had disastrous consequences for our country.” [Charles Kupchan via Bloomberg, 7/21/12. Adam Smith, 7/12/12]
What We’re Reading
Bombings and shootings killed 103 people in the deadliest day in Iraq this year.
Senior representatives of various Syrian opposition groups have been meeting quietly in Germany under the tutelage of the U.S. Institute for Peace to plan for a post-Assad Syrian government.
Arab League foreign ministers called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
An Iranian military commander said Iran would not close the Strait of Hormuz as long as it is able to use the vital shipping lane itself.
The European Union decided to lift most sanctions against Zimbabwe once it holds a referendum on a new constitution.
The Chinese government approved the establishment of a military garrison in the South China Sea over rising tensions with neighboring countries.
The heaviest rains Beijing has seen in 60 years were blamed for killing at least 37 people and forcing tens of thousands to evacuate the city.
Norway commemorated the victims on the one-year anniversary of Anders Behring Breivik’s attacks on Utoya Island.
Thousands marched through Mexico City protesting the election of Enrique Pena Nieto and accusing him of fraudulent campaign tactics.
The United States cut military aid to Rwanda after accusations that the Rwandan government has helped finance rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Commentary of the Day
Fred Kaplan explores the limited means of U.S. and allied forces to pursue the least destructive outcome in Syria, in contrast to the simpler military solutions some neoconservatives are proposing.
The New York Times editorial board argues for the importance of economic and political issues in a successful Afghanistan transition.
Ambassador Kenneth Merten reflects on Haiti’s progress.