Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Five Principles of Romney’s Foreign Policy

by Micah Zenko
October 9, 2012

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivers his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington on October 8, 2012 (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters). Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivers his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington on October 8, 2012 (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters).


Yesterday, Mitt Romney delivered his first major foreign policy address since he spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Convention on July 24. Although there were few differences from his previous speeches, it is increasingly apparent that there are five core principles that underlie the Romney worldview.

First, the world is a terrifying place. Romney warned on Memorial Day: “I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It’s not.” He doubled down on the threat-mongering at the VFW by reaffirming, “The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic.” And during the Obama administration, Romney added, “The threats we face have grown so much worse.” Of course, all metrics suggest that the world is actually safer than at any point in history, and the only plausible threats facing Americans are self-generated.

Second, Romney’s proposed foreign policy is as detailed as a book cover without the table of contents and supporting text. While Romney clearly identifies his world vision, he omits any elements of a strategy that is required to achieve that vision. In lieu of specific policy recommendations, he repeats variations of the words “strength” and “leadership.” His only specific recommendations—such as increasing the U.S. Navy from 285 ships to 350 in 10 years—are stand-alone concepts, since there is no overall strategy that they could flow from.

Third, the notion that leadership overrides strategies or policies assumes that a President Romney would convince or compel other states to do what is plainly not in their self-interest. Yesterday, for instance, Romney said he would “call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark.” In 1959, President Eisenhower warned that Europeans were “making a sucker out of Uncle Sam” by refusing to pay their fair share of the defense burden. Since then, every president and secretary of defense has failed to compel NATO allies to sustainably increase their defense spending. Ten years ago, the United States accounted for 63 percent of NATO defense spending, today it is 77 percent. How is Romney specifically planning on convincing NATO allies—particularly amid an economic recession reverberating throughout Europe—cough up more for defense?

Fourth, given Romney’s inability or unwillingness to articulate any strategies, or differences between his vision and that of the Obama administration, voters can assume that a President Romney’s foreign policy would actually closely resemble President Obama’s.

Finally, however, the main distinction is Romney’s repeated conviction that it is the duty and responsibility of the United States to shape and lead the world, which is desperate to be shaped and lead by Washington. “There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East,” Romney said yesterday. It is exactly this flawed mindset that has repeatedly begot trouble in the past, particularly in the Middle East. This dual belief in U.S. influence and the global craving for U.S. leadership could be dangerous, if Romney acts on its implications.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by D. Salvador

    The first thing to come to my mind when I read the headline was “Does he really have one?”… Truth is he’s just promising foreign policy actions he knows a US President cannot deliver once he’s in office (on Russia, China, Iran,…).

    He’ll just keep on the same line, in the by-the-moment less likely case that he’ll win the election. Any other outcome could have almost unbearable consequances for the world (especially his tough stance on China and Russia).

    Great analysis, Mr. Zenko! 🙂

  • Posted by Laura Bancos

    Unlike Obama, Romney would stick to our values and would ensure that our military is strong. Alexander the Great knew it, Napoleon knew it and Churchill knew it. Obama could careless, because his main focus is in making the US a Socialist nation. For sure, the people that surround him are – all of them Jewish and very committed to control power 100% behind the scenes.

    China has over 100 M men military force, but needs natural resources. It is not in the interest of China that the US goes down economically, because they would come with us. Russia, on the other hand, is still the most dangerous adversary. I don’t even think Micah Zenko is even aware of the Primakov Doctrine driving what is happening today in the Middle East.

    This is the reason why I don’t bother too much with the Council on Foreing Relations organization anymore…and I was a founding member of the chapter city where I live.

  • Posted by Sol Morgenstern

    Ms. Bancos,

    Please familiarize yourself with the rules of this forum (CFR Guidelines):

    – verbal abuse or personal attacks targeting an individual or entity
    – hate speech, or any communication that disparages a person or a group on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic

    Your anti-Semitic commentary is offensive, please educate yourself and study Policy before commenting with such bias in the future. Not all Jews are Socialists, nor are we all Democrats for that matter. You comments set you back 100 years in time.

    You should never claim to be a member of an organization in which you clearly do not meet the membership criteria. This is supported not only by your grammatical errors, but also your remedial knowledge of current US Foreign / Security Policy.

    Would you care to share with us which chapter you were a “founding member” of perhaps?There are indeed a very small circle of individual members associated with the CFR.


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