Before President Obama’s speech last night, in which he audaciously bragged about his foreign policy record, the Romney campaign put out its most effective foreign policy statement to date. In a memo authored by policy director Lanhee Chen, the Romney team makes the case that “President Obama has diminished American influence abroad and compromised our interests and values. In no region of the world is the U.S. position stronger than it was four years ago.”
The memo highlights 10 of Obama’s national security failures. It isn’t long and is worth reading in full, but here are the highlights:
The Romney campaign blasts the president for failure to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program: “Despite promising to ‘do everything in his power’ to stop Iran, four years of President Obama’s irresolute policies have failed to slow the progress of Iran’s program. In fact, that progress has sped up.”
The Romney camp also spells out the nominee’s views on Afghanistan more clearly than has been done previously:
President Obama has convinced all parties — both our partners and our enemies — that his objective is to leave Afghanistan by a date certain, regardless of the conditions on the ground. This message has led our Afghan and Pakistani partners to doubt our resolve and hedge their bets rather than fully cooperate with us. And this message has encouraged the Taliban to believe that they can wait us out.
After listing specific errors (e.g. putting a deadline on the surge, ignoring the military’s advice for a troop withdrawal timeline), it concludes: “Amidst President Obama’s mistakes, relations with our Afghan partners as well as with Pakistani authorities have frayed. Relations between President Obama and President Karzai are strained, leading the Afghan president to frequently criticize the American troop presence. A senior Obama Administration official recently called the U.S.-Pakistani relationship—which has always been complicated—‘the worst it has ever been.’”
The memo also blasts Obama for the serial national security leaks (“whether the leaks were politically motivated and intentional or the result of bad management and sloppiness is neither here nor there”) and for the sequestration cuts (“His policy of unilateral disarmament has sent a message of weakness abroad, leads our friends to question our staying power, and emboldens our adversaries.”).
It is noteworthy that today Politico reports: “The book ‘The Price of Politics,’ by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward, makes it clear the idea for the draconian spending cuts originated in the White House — and not in Congress. According to the book . . . President Barack Obama’s top deputies believed the prospect of massive defense cuts would compel Republicans to agree to a deficit-cutting grand bargain.” Politico quotes House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman as saying: ‘This book makes clear that the president put his own political interests ahead of our national security. House Republicans have passed a plan to protect our troops by replacing the sequester with common-sense spending cuts and reform.It’s long past time for the president to show some leadership and present a concrete plan to do the same.”
The Romney camp’s memo also hammers Obama on Israel: “This strategy of distancing the United States from Israel has utterly failed. First, on its own terms, it failed to gain the credibility with Arab states Obama sought as polls indicate that the people of major Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan hold lower opinions of the United States now than at the end of the Bush Administration. More broadly, it has damaged our credibility not just with our ally Israel, but with other partners that now question whether the United States will stand with them in the future.”
There had been some question as to how Romney’s approach to Syria would differ from Obama’s. The memo clarifies:
Some 20,000 people have been killed, the region is in turmoil, malign powers and actors have greater influence over the situation than the United States does, and Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons are at risk of falling into the wrong hands.
President Obama’s policy has been marked by confusion, delay, and paralysis. . . . Russia and Iran have funneled arms and assistance to the Assad regime while Al Qaeda and other extremist actors filled the vacuum left by President Obama’s refusal to forthrightly lead an effort to identify, organize, and arm the responsible members of the opposition.
The last sentence suggests, although does not declare outright, that a Romney administration would have made an effort to “identify, organize, and arm the responsible members of the opposition.”
The memo excoriates Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia, reeling off the list of concessions we have made. (“In return for these concessions, Russia has given little save for obstruction at the U.N., support for rogue regimes, and bellicose behavior.”) The Romney camp also chastises Obama for allowing the Castro brothers and Hugo Chavez to run amok and for failing to initiate any new trade agreements of his own. (“And the three trade agreements he submitted to Congress for approval were all initially negotiated and signed by President Bush.”)
And finally, the Romney team offers its most specific critique of Obama’s approach to Iraq:
But despite the clear need for a SOFA [status of forces agreement], President Obama fumbled the negotiation. When a recommendation for an anemic transition force of only a few thousand was leaked, it undermined negotiations by signaling to members of the Iraqi legislature that the United States was not serious about an adequate presence in Iraq to complete the transition. That took away any incentive for Iraqi legislators to take a political risk and vote in favor a new SOFA. President Obama did little to persuade them otherwise.And it seems the Obama Administration resisted feasible methods to work around the troop immunity issue.
The day after the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops, Iraq’s Prime Minister took worrying actions to consolidate power. . .
Iraq is a nation in the heart of a strategically vital region where we spent much precious blood and treasure to protect our security and ensure liberty. But President Obama has irresponsibly vacated the field. As a result, there are deep concerns that the gains so dearly won by our uniformed men and women will be lost.
Many foreign-policy gurus would have welcomed such a clear and complete statement earlier in the campaign. But in this case somewhat late is definitely better than never. It should provide reassurance to allies and the voters that Romney envisions a principled, forceful national security policy that seeks to prevent and minimize conflict by acting decisively and maximizing U.S. influence.
Foreign policy has been overshadowed by the economy in the campaign. But as President George W. Bush learned, foreign policy can take center stage, diverting the best laid plans of candidates who would greatly prefer to work on domestic problems. The more serious thinking and planning that can be done in advance of crises, the better. This is a strong start.