Romney Foreign Policy Vision a Big Dud


Mitt Romney - Mike Segar _ Reuters - banner.jpgReuters/Mike Segar

As David Frum has said, if the Republican Party is an oligarchy, Mitt Romney will head the GOP ticket.  If it is a democracy, anyone but Romney will. 

Despite the agitations and clatter of the Tea Party, my hunch is that the Republicans are an oligarchy and Romney will be the last one standing when all the others have fallen. 

The Obama White House fears Romney and would have loved to run against Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Chris Christie of Sarah Palin (or Herman Cain!!).  Obama has spent so much political capital irritating the left and holding the pragmatic, wanna-do-a-deal center that for the Republicans to now throw a generally sensible, northeastern, Nelson Rockefeller style Republican at him seems like a game foul.

But Romney has been campaign tested once, and at least for the time being — he’s the candidate who deserves a deep dive into what he believes, thinks and who he surrounds himself with.

Romney’s speech on foreign policy was depressingly conventional.  I am acquainted with many of his now outed foreign policy advisers — and think that some how the tug between the different perspectives on the team must have warped beyond coherence whatever strategic frame Romney hoped to deliver.

Running through his remarks — Romney checks off the Iran box, punctuating
his citation by calling Iran’s leaders “suicidal fanatics.”  This is a
bit like John Bolton calling Kim Jong Il “scum” just before Colin Powell
was working to get the North Koreans to suspend a nascent nuclear
warhead production capability.  Romney, or Bolton for that matter,
‘might’ be right — but the comment practically assures Romney’s
impotence in finding an alternative path with Iran if he were to win the
White House.

But we also know that Iran is not led by suicidal fanatics.  They would
have behaved very differently if ‘suicidal’.   We know Iran is led by a
combination of tired ideologues who are corrupt and intoxicated on their
positions and power and privileges not unlike what happened after many
decades of power-holding by Soviet elites.  There is not much revolution
left inside Iran’s top tier — but there is a lot of jostling for power
and there is a thirst for regional preeminence.  Romney’s comment gives
absolutely no indication that he would be any better than Bill
Kristol’s or John Bolton’s war-mongering calls for a collision now with

Romney’s second checked off box is Israel.  I believe in standing by
Israel’s security too — but want Israel to stop confusing its long term
and short term interests.  Israel is the super power in the region and
sets the temperature in its neighborhood.  Romney talks of Israel as if
it is a complete innocent and without capabilities of its own.  Tired. 
And distracting from America’s real issues.

Some years ago, I asked Chinese strategists what their grand strategy
was — and they said it was simple — they just hoped the US would
remain distracted in small Middle Eastern countries.  So far, Romney is
giving China’s geostrategic weiqi players exactly what they want.

And yes, China has not yet come up in Romney’s talk as I reread it.

Afghanistan mentioned.  No clarity at all. 

Romney asks “will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of
fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for

Mitt — make the case why this matters one way or
another.  Are there not havens for terrorists in many countries we don’t
invade and occupy?  And more importantly, do US force deployments in
Afghanistan appear to the great powers of the world as force multipliers and
the leveraging of American force — or instead appear to be a trap containing American power? 
China, Iran, Pakistan, the entire neighborhood perceive an American
military that is overstretched — and Afghanistan as a crippling rather
than enhancing effort of US power projection.

He casually drifts by Pakistan — not posing the key question which is
whether we now be in some form of informal war with the Pakistanis given
the public comments of US officials that Pakistan directed Taliban
attacks against America’s Kabul Embassy compound.

He then tosses in China between Pakistan and Russia — asserting that
China is bent on emerging as a globally consequential economic and
military force.  But it’s not enough to state the obvious.  What is the
strategy to deal with this rise?  Are China’s intentions the same as
were the Soviet’s? or different?  What are America’s and China’s
strategic equities that need sorting and managing?  Is a collision
inevitable? or will Romney suggest a path that will align the strategic
interests of China and the US?

Then Russia. Romney asks will the Soviets be back?  A nation that is
demographically collapsing will not go on a new warpath Governor
Romney.  Your advisers know that.  Spend some time with Dov Zakheim or
Mitchell Reiss.  They would not have made such ridiculous leading, vapid

Then Chavez, then Castro.  The realists on Romney’s team know that the
US-Cuba Embargo harms American interests more than helps — and
increasingly irritates a younger generation of Cuban-Americans who want
to do business and make their fortunes in trade an investment in Cuba,
while watching some of the Cuban diaspora in Central and South America
as well as in Spain run ahead of them.  Do some poll work, Governor
Romney — the results are not tilting toward Ileana Ros-Lehtinen but
rather towards a next generation of entrepreneurs.

Then Romney goes to Mexico — drug violence and narco-crimes.  Illegal
immigration and drug smuggling Nothing at all on Mexico being America’s
largest trading partner or the many positive avenues of engagement
between the countries.   I’m imagining Romney doing something along the
lines to the Hispanic vote of what John McLaughlin might say, “Bye-bye!”

Then Mitt Romney offers the Roger & Me, America as General Motors line:

But I am here today to tell you that I am guided by one
overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American
Century. In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and
the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America
leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.

Of course, America is important and has a big miltary and a $15 trillion
GDP — but it is slipping.  Romney doesn’t get the fact that the world
looks at the US as a very well-branded, globally sprawling operation
with a lot of power and capacity that is rusty, underperforming, and
unable to accomplish the things America itself says it wants to do in
the world.

Romney apparently thinks that just asserting leadership is being a
leader.  The world has moved past this point.  American leadership must
be consented to and earned again — and there is nothing in Romney’s
speech that indicates that he actually understands America’s real state
of play with other global stakeholders.

Finally, I found a line of Romney’s that I fully agree with.  He says:

It is far too easy for a President to jump from crisis to
crisis, dealing with one hot spot after another. But to do so is to be
shaped by events rather than to shape events. To avoid this paralyzing
seduction of action rather than progress, a President must have a broad
vision of the world coupled with clarity of purpose.

America has tilted towards being a reactive power rather than a
strategic power — and this needs to be reversed. But I am desperately
searching in Romney’s comments a “clarity of purpose”.  I see historical
cliches, and inertia-forged thinking that reflects the past more than I
see something designed to deal with the world as it is today.

Then back to Islamic fundamentalism.  Fear. Fear. Fear.  Box checked.

Global bad guys. North Korea. Venezuela. Cuba.  Check. Check. Check. 
Cuba?  Oh right — Florida — have to make Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and
Debbie Wasserman Schulz happy.  

Someone please walk Mitt Romney through what the US has accomplished
with that evil Communist nation we actually had a debilitating war with
(Vietnam) and tell him how it is working out.  And Cuba today has
decided to export doctors rather than revolution of late.  It has also
developed a Meningitis B vaccine that could be rather helpful to
afflicted US youth — and Cuba has been making a series of steps that
are very China-like in its domestic political economy, all while the US
dithers and Mitt Romney clings to a pathetically anachronistic vestige
of the Cold War.

Then 1,542 words in we get another China reference.  That is right.  Two
modest mentions of China is Mitt Romney’s zinger opus on American grand
strategy.  China is surging — and while America appears to be the
General Motors of nations; China looks like the Google of countries,
rocketing upward like an internet start up in the perception of other

I just accidentally deleted quite a bit of text that followed this.  Not going to re-write it.

Some of what I wrote saluted Romney’s framing of the importance of
international institutions — seeing them as valuable vehicles to move
America’s statecraft and vision of human rights and democracy forward
but not relying on them entirely.  I noted that this section was written
I’d guess by Paula Dobriansky, whom I really admire — and that this
paragraph would never have slipped pass a John Bolton, Frank Gaffney, or
Max Boot — all of whom are not listed Romney advisers.  So, Romney scores some goals on this one in my book.

I won’t re-create what I wrote as my frustration with most of
Romney’s speech is severe (there were some good points — just too few).  There is no strategy in his remarks.  I had hoped he
would realistically grapple with America’s deficit in geopolitical
strategy and offer something that would demonstrate a credible vision
that might reinvent America’s leverage and place and mystique in the

Instead, Romney flounders in platitudes, checked off boxes in laundry
lists of problem states, and offers contradictions on how he would
approach defense spending and the economy.

China — which matters on all tiers of policy, domestic and foreign —
gets a scant nod from Romney, and this is very disappointing.  There is
no more important challenge in the world today in my view than in
getting China right — and figuring out how to stabilize and deal with
China’s “fragile swagger“.

I’ll write more on Romney’s advisory group which I found surprisingly
good and diverse.  There are smart, thoughtful realists and smart,
thoughtful neoconservatives; there are global justice policy
intellectuals who see the value of international deal-making.  All of
this is good.  And the names I would have thought might appear, like
John Bolton or Frank Gaffney or Elliott Abrams or Randy Scheunemann are
not there — at least not yet.  I have nothing against their inclusion,
but they represent a much harder-edged and in my view potentially
dangerous global military adventurism which Romney’s announced crew does
not represent.

I’m off to Abu Dhabi for meetings of the World Economic Forum and will
add more on the Romney Foreign Policy advisers when I get there.

– Steve Clemons is Washington Editor at Large at The Atlantic, where this post first appeared. Clemons can be followed on Twitter at @SCClemons


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