To date, Mitt Romney’s critique of the Obama foreign policy has been a case study of bluster over content, without specifics, although the presence of men such as John Bolton, the shoot-first former U.N. ambassador, as influential members of his foreign policy team ought to give Americans serious pause.
In fact, if we are to judge him from the tone of his rhetoric and by those whose counsel he seeks — and that’s about all he has given us to go on — Romney proposes to pick up where Dick Cheney left off in 2004, when a chastened President Bush belatedly took back control of foreign policy from his over-adventurous vice president.
I note that in his speech today at the Virginia Military Institute (text available here), Romney blamed the Obama administration for differences of opinion that have erupted between the United States and Israel.
“The world must never see any daylight between our two nations,” Romney said.
However, I do not believe it is our responsibility alone to ensure that such daylight never occurs. Israeli leaders bear at least equal responsibility for keeping that important relationship on an even keel. We are certainly under no obligation to outsource our foreign policy in that region to Benjamin Netanyahu, as Romney seems to advocate.
(In fact, if forced to synthesize the Romney Doctrine to one sentence, I might offer this: The rest of the world will be required to abide by our wishes; we will be required to abide by Israel’s).
Romney also spoke, as he has in the past, of a foreign policy based on confidence, clarity and resolve. These are good and necessary things. Unfortunately, the man’s credibility in preaching these virtues is more than a little suspect. You may recall that earlier this year, as an uprising in Libya gained strength, Romney first supported U.S. intervention and then opposed intervention and then embraced it again once it had succeeded. At one point, he even fled reporters in Las Vegas rather than be forced to take a position on the crisis.
Likewise, he harshly criticized the goal of removing Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddhafi from power, then turned around celebrated once that goal was achieved.
That is not a policy based on resolve. Likewise, Romney’s outrageous claim that President Obama sympathized with those who attacked and killed our ambassador to Libya and three others — a statement issued on the very night of their deaths — communicated not mature confidence but hasty, amateurish desperation and an eagerness to inject partisan politics in foreign-policy decisions.
I am most curious about his policy toward Afghanistan. Here’s what Romney had to say:
“… in Afghanistan, I will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. President Obama would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decisions in Afghanistan is arguing for endless war. But the route to more war — and to potential attacks here at home — is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11. I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation.”
Now, I would suggest that those are odd words from a man who just preached the necessity of clarity in foreign policy. Take a look again — do those words tell us anything about Romney’s approach to Afghanistan, or how it might differ in concrete terms from that undertaken by Obama?
Finally, Romney not only suggested that he would oppose any cuts in defense spending, he advocated what would appear to be a new military buildup. That is consistent with his pledge to commit a minimum of 4 percent of GDP to defense spending. By 2014, that would mean a $200-billion-a-year increase in spending over currently projected levels.
Given our financial situation, a 33 percent increase in projected defense spending at a time when we already spend more than the next 10 biggest military powers combined would not seem to be a wise investment. And again — although Romney continues to be painfully averse to specifics — in general the GOP candidate would seem pretty eager to put that larger military to regular use overseas.
– Jay Bookman