Mitt Romney is going overseas in a few days. On Tuesday he will be speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which, as the timing would have it, allows him to bash the president on American soil and then go overseas. What should he say? Here are ten suggestions:
1. Explain why America has to be involved in the world on both practical and philosophic grounds. He certainly can and should say that we can’t be a world power without a healthy economy, but it is equally true that we can’t have a healthy economy (which depends on trade, security, stability in other places) without a effective foreign policy.
2. Give credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden but use it to make the point: National security is not cheap, quick or easy. It takes the commitment of presidents over many administrations. Presidents should avoid using foreign policy for self-promotion or to score points against their predecessors. He should deplore the serial national security leaks from President Obama and commend the president for realizing we can’t close the prison at Guantanamo or try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian courts.
3. In that regard Obama is dropping the ball on defense spending. His own defense secretary calls the sequestration cuts “devastating.” (Romney opposed the debt ceiling deal in part for this reason.) Obama is refusing to head it off, and worse, holding our national security and troops hostage for a tax hike. Moreover, he has already made real cuts in defense to help fund the explosion in domestic spending.
4. Obama made an error of historic proportion in failing to back the Green Movement in 2009 and to adopt regime change as the policy of the U.S. thereafter. He determination to engage a regime that had no intention of being engaged led to muteness when support was most needed by the Greens. Ever since we have failed to hold the regime accountable (for the assassination attempt on a Saudi diplomat, for example) for its actions. Obama has dragged his feet and engaged in self-delusion with regard to his Iran sanctions policy. It hasn’t slowed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In talking down the military option he’s made the threat of force less credible, and shifted the burden to Israel to take care of a threat to the West.
5. Obama has picked on allies (Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Honduras) or ignored them (in Central and South America) while trying to cozy up to antagonistic powers ( China, Russia) with predictable results. The results in the Middle East have been particularly disastrous.
6. Obama dragged his heels for years on three free-trade agreements. allowing other powers to move into those markets. His domestic political concerns (i.e., assuaging Big Labor) harmed America’s economy and undercut a loyal ally in Colombia.
7. Obama has deferred too often to multilateral bodies (the Arab League, the United Nations). Meanwhile he’s failed to develop bilateral or multilateral partnerships that can act more swiftly and effectively in international crises.
8. Russian reset has been nothing more than appeasement in a prom dress. Obama refuses to recognize (in Russia’s START agreement cheating, support for Syria, Iran sanctions evasion and human rights abuses) that this has been a one-way street. Obama has only emboldened Vladimir Putin.
9. Obama’s reticence to act in Syria has been a human rights and strategic blunder. Only in the past few weeks (!) have we recognized that there is a problem with weapons of mass destruction as Bashar al-Assad’s rule crumbles. Obama entirely misread the situation, first coddling Assad — with smooches from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — and then insisting that Assad was a “reformer.” Once again he has sent a message of weakness and indecisiveness to Syria’s patrons in Tehran.
10. Obama imposed deadlines and rushed troop withdrawals. In Iraq and Afghanistan he put at risk gains in both countries and emboldened Iran.
That’s a lot, but then a lot has gone wrong in the past three years. Romney should make clear that he comes from the Reagan tradition in which the United States remains militarily prepared, stands by allies, denounces despotism, and promotes (not necessarily with military means but with support for freedom-loving people) the development of human rights and democracy. He should point to an emerging bipartisan consensus in Congress (on Iran, on the failure of Russian reset) with which he, but not the president, can work. However he describes his own approach (“calm, credible, consistent and contentious” has a ring) he must make certain that the choice is not between Obama and unbridled adventurism, but between Obama’s incompetence and a foreign policy that has succeeded in the past.
It’s long past the time that Romney should have introduced his foreign policy approach to the general electorate but all eyes are now on him. He shouldn’t drop the ball.