James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Campaign 2012: A Romney Foreign Policy Strategy?

by James M. Lindsay
October 7, 2011

Mitt Romney speaking in South Carolina in September. (Chris Keane/courtesy Reuters)

Mitt Romney speaking in South Carolina in September. (Chris Keane/courtesy Reuters)

Mitt Romney gave his foreign-policy speech today at the Citadel. Here are five quick reactions.

First, the meta-theme in Romney’s foreign-policy pitch is that he believes in America and President Obama doesn’t:

This is America’s moment.  We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America’s time has passed. That is utter nonsense. An eloquently justified surrender of world leadership is still surrender.

I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your President.

You have that President today.

Not much subtlety there.

Second, Romney sees a pretty traditional list of threats facing the United States. It includes a nuclear Iran, an Afghanistan overrun once again by the Taliban, a failed Pakistan, a belligerent China, an aggressive Russia, and a Mexico battling drug traffickers. Most foreign policy experts would agree that all of these are potential problems, though they would argue about their priority and relative importance.

Third, Romney’s plans for addressing these threats in his first one-hundred days in office mix the oddly specific, the surprisingly vague, and the non-committal. The oddly specific include an increase in the U.S. Navy’s “shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15” and the regular presence of aircraft carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. The surprisingly vague are an effort “to train all of our soft power resources on ensuring that the Arab Spring does not fade into a long winter” and “a campaign to advance economic opportunity in Latin America.” The non-committal is the call for “a full review of our transition to the Afghan military.”

Fourth, although Romney rolled out a foreign-policy advisory team yesterday that reads like a who’s-who of officials in George W. Bush’s administration, he is not emphasizing democracy promotion as a goal of his foreign policy. He barely mentioned democracy in his speech today, and he said nothing about how he might promote it.

Finally, Romney may eventually develop a foreign-policy strategy but he doesn’t have one yet. A good foreign-policy strategy names goals, identifies trends, sets priorities, and identifies means. Romney’s speech today did none of that. It especially skirted the question of where the world is going and how that affects U.S. interests and opportunities. He may find it politically advantageous to say:

God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers.  America must lead the world, or someone else will.

But whether we like it or not, power is being dispersed globally. We can’t wish that fact away; it is the consequence of globalization. (A development, by the way, that the United States championed.) As George W. Bush and Barack Obama both learned the hard way, as countries have gained power they have wanted a greater say in global affairs. And they frequently aren’t interested in following Washington’s lead.

Figuring out how to navigate a world in which the gap between America and the rest is shrinking is perhaps the country’s biggest foreign-policy challenge. It is made all the harder by the country’s fiscal problems. How Romney would reconcile his foreign-policy ambitions, and his related plans to grow the U.S. military by 100,000 troops, with the need to stanch the flow of governmental red ink is something he still has to answer.

The beauty of campaigns is that there will be plenty of chances to ask the question.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Frank

    Romney has no clue. First off America is broke. Second, the troops dont want to be fighting a war that has everything to do with Is-unreal and nothing to do with America. Ron Paul gets the most amount of donations from service men/women and that says a lot. Bring the troops home and live in peace. Ron Paul 2012!!!!

  • Posted by Bill

    After also looking quickly at the accompanying Romney campaign page white paper, it does appear the work of a committee of second term Bush 43 officials. First termers appear less settled on Romney, e.g. with Feith and others close to Rumsfeld reportedly advising Perry, which may explain some of the lack of discussion of democracy promotion. Some striking omissions include Libya, NATO (not addressing the standard whither NATO question), and Brazil despite playing up Latin America. The White Paper also avoids wading into any discussion of Guantanamo or detainee practices that some on the GOP side (e.g. Senator Graham) had predicted would be used to hammer President Obama. On balance about what one would expect from a careful GOP frontrunner. If nothing else, assuming Romney can regurgitate its contents, shows that he would give a competent performance on foreign policy and security issues opposite Obama in debates. Same can’t be said for Perry or Cain.

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