Romney VMI Speech: Calls for Strategy Go Unanswered

October 8, 2012

Today, Governor Romney spoke at the Virginia Military Institute – his third speech of the campaign on U.S. foreign policy. Despite calls from within his own party and across the spectrum for a detailed blueprint for America’s role in the world, Romney offered a blend of inaccurate critique and proposal for initiatives that are already underway.

No response to bipartisan calls to lay out a strategy. Romney himself called for new strategies repeatedly in the speech, yet offered no proposals for what that strategy should be. As former Middle East negotiator, who has served under both Democrats and Republicans, Aaron David Miller wrote last week: “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.’” [Aaron David Miller, 10/1/12]

Romney offers few proposals – most are already underway, or defeated by Romney allies in Congress.  Spencer Ackerman of Wired writes that despite his criticisms of President Obama, “more often than not, Romney accepts the policy framework that Obama created. On Iran, he’ll propose ‘new sanctions’ and to ‘tighten the sanctions we currently have,’ which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Iran policy (along with cyberattacks). On Afghanistan, he ‘will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,’ which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Afghanistan policy. On Libya, Romney will ‘support the Libyan people’s efforts to forge a lasting government that represents all of them,’ which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Libya policy. Perhaps most surprisingly, Romney will recommit to negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine, which was a cornerstone of Obama’s Mideast policy before it crumbled into dust.”

Ackerman adds, “The differences Romney outlines from Obama tend to shrink under scrutiny. To confront Iran, Romney will pledge to ‘restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf.’ But Obama has kept two carrier strike groups off Iran’s shores for at least a year, an increase from the Bush administration, along with an additional naval surge of minesweepers, gunboats and commandos. On Syria, Romney says he’ll ‘entify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need.’ … Romney doesn’t like Obama’s 2014 timetable for ending U.S. combat in Afghanistan (a ‘politically timed retreat,’ Romney calls it), but, again, he’ll say he’ll stick to it while ‘evaluat[ing] conditions on the ground,’ something less than a pledge to stay longer. But since Obama isn’t leaving Afghanistan after 2014, either, finding distinctions on Afghanistan is like counting angels on the head of a pin.” [Spencer Ackerman, 10/8/12]

ON THE ISSUES: FLIP-FLOPS, MISLEADS, AND JUST PLAIN GETS THE FACTS WRONG.

Romney on terrorism: “the threats we face have grown so much worse.”

Fact: According to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), “The total number of worldwide attacks in 2011, however, dropped by almost 12 percent from 2010 and nearly 29 percent from 2007.” The NCTC adds that, while tragic, “seventeen U.S. private citizens worldwide were killed by terrorist attacks in 2011…only 0.13 percent of the total number of deaths worldwide…” [NCTC, 5/12/12]

Romney on Afghanistan: “I will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” but implies he would change from the current course in some way when he adds, I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders.”

Flip flop: Blake Hounshell, managing editor at Foreign Policy magazine explained Romney’s various positions on Afghanistan earlier this year: “Enter Mitt Romney, whose positions on Afghanistan have been all over the map. He’s criticized the Obama administration for setting a timeline for withdrawal, but he has endorsed the timeline in practice. He’s denounced the idea of negotiating with the Taliban but hasn’t explained how he plans to defeat the insurgent movement on the battlefield…The truth is that Romney holds more or less the same position on Afghanistan as the president — steadily turning control over to the Afghans in the run-up to 2014, while cajoling the Pakistanis to be more cooperative — but he just can’t admit it.” [Blake Hounshell, 4/23/12]

Romney on the Middle East Peace Process: “I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”

Off the record comments: Speaking to private group of campaign funders, Romney made his views disturbing clear:”[S]o what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.” [David Corn, 9/18/12]

Romney on Syria: “We should be working …vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran—rather than sitting on the sidelines.”

Reality: Reuters reports, “U.S. government had set aside a total of $25 million for ‘non-lethal’ assistance to the Syrian opposition. A U.S. official said that was mostly for communications equipment, including encrypted radios…” additionally as Ackerman writes, ‘the CIA is on the Turkey-Syrian border trying to sort out which Syrian rebels are worth funneling foreign weapons to — a difficult proposition at best — and, as the New York Times‘ David Sanger points out, Romney stops short of promising American weapons to the rebels.” [Reuters, 8/1/12. Spencer Ackerman, 10/8/12]

Romney on Pentagon spending:  “I will roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military. I will make the critical defense investments that we need to remain secure.”

Reality:  The levels of Pentagon spending agreed among the Pentagon, the White House and Congress in the Budget Control Act represent a decline in the rate of growth over a decade – not a cut by normal definitions – and were the result of a Pentagon-led strategy review. Earlier this year, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey testified the cuts ‘will not lead to a military in decline. Rather, this budget will maintain our military’s decisive edge and help sustain America’s global leadership.’” And the “trillion in cuts over a decade” that Romney references will only come to pass if Congress fails to agree a comprehensive alternative including revenue – which Romney has said he opposes. [Martin Dempsey via AP, 2/15/12]

Romney on Iraq:  “The President tried—and failed—to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains.”

Reality: But as Marc Lynch of George Washington University and the Center for a New American Security wrote in January, the withdrawal was better policy than politics: “In many ways, it would have been safer politically for Obama to keep the residual force in Iraq which hawks demanded to insulate himself against charges of having ‘lost Iraq’. But it would have been wrong on policy. It’s not just that the U.S. was obligated by the [Status of Forces Agreement] to withdraw its forces, once it proved unable to negotiate the terms of an extended troop presence with the immunity provisions which the Pentagon demanded. It’s that the remaining U.S. troops could do little for Iraqi security, had little positive effect on Iraqi politics, and would have soon become an active liability.” [Marc Lynch, 1/12/12]

Romney on foreign assistance to the Middle East: “In Egypt, I will use our influence—including clear conditions on our aid—to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel. And we must persuade our friends and allies to place similar stipulations on their aid.” 

Flip-flop:  Romney favorably cited George C. Marshall, who while he was Secretary of State after World War II led the creation of the Marshall Plan, sending $122 million in today’s dollars in aid to Europe with no expectation of repayment. In the present day, however, Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan has proposed cutting funds for economic development, democracy-building and Embassy Security by and 30 percent; while neither Romney nor Ryan spoke out against Congressional proposals to cut or eliminate aid to Egypt and Libya. [Financial Sense, 7/6/12. Lawrence Korb 8/20/12]

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