In conjunction with his speech at the Citadel on Friday, Mitt Romney released a white paper outlining his foreign policy views in some detail. It’s worth a read through, if only to understand what is in essence a comprehensive critique of the Obama foreign policy vision.
Eliot Cohen, a highly respected national security voice in conservative circles (he served in the George W. Bush State Department from 2007 to 2009), writes in the introduction:
The United States cannot withdraw from world affairs without grave danger to itself and to others. Almost every global conflict from the end of the eighteenth century has, in one way or another, embroiled this country. Even if some Americans today wish to disengage from the world’s affairs, they will find — as they did on September 11th, 2001, and as other Americans did on December 7th, 1941 — that the world will not disengage from them. . . . The American choice is not, therefore, whether it should lead: it is how to lead wisely. Skillful leadership requires an ability to recognize that sometimes our interests and our values will be in tension, and to figure out how to live with that ambiguity, without forsaking either. It means maintaining strength and using it prudently, while refraining from useless bluster or diplomacy conducted from a position of weakness. It means sustaining old friendships and alliances while seeking out and strengthening new relationships.
In other words, these are the things the Obama team has failed to do.
The essence of the Romney foreign policy view, the paper explains, is to reject the notion of America in decline:
This view of America in decline, and America as a potentially malign force, has percolated far and wide. It is intimately related to the torrent of criticism, unprecedented for an American president, that Barack Obama has directed at his own country. In his first year in office alone, President Obama issued apologies for America in speeches delivered in France, England, Turkey and Egypt, not to mention on multiple similar occasions here at home. Among the “sins” for which he has repented in our collective name are American arrogance, dismissiveness and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, for committing torture, for fueling anti-Islamic sentiments, for dragging our feet in combating global warming, and for selectively promoting democracy. The sum total of President Obama’s rhetorical efforts has been a form of unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic and moral sphere. A president who is so troubled by America’s past cannot lead us into the future.
Mitt Romney rejects the philosophy of decline in all of its variants. He believes that a strong America is the best guarantor of peace and the best patron of liberty the world has ever known. That is the central lesson Romney finds in the history of America’s role on the world stage. Throughout our past, the United States has acted across the globe to advance the values of liberty and self-government. We have never sought to impose ourselves on others, to seek colonies or to engage in conquest. We have sought only our own safety and, where possible, to open the opportunity for others to live in freedom as we do. Any fair historical balance sheet would reveal that no nation has shed more blood for more noble causes than the United States.
Critics of the freedom agenda and fans of “re-evaluating” (that is, cutting back) on our commitments in the world will roll their eyes or recoil in horror. But this is the only foreign policy, Romney (and many conservatives) argue, that can maintain the United States as a economic superpower and in turn guarantee not only our own security but that of the Western world, in which we are inextricably entwined. Call it the peace an security agenda, for both goals require a robust American presence in the world.
As for specific policies, Romney takes a view that not surprisingly, is quite different than Obama’s in nearly all respects. On defense spending: “As commander in chief, Mitt Romney will keep faith with the men and women who defend us just as he will ensure that our military capabilities are matched to the interests we need to protect. He will put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year. He will also modernize and replace the aging inventories of the Air Force, Army and Marines and selectively strengthen our force structure. And he will fully commit to a robust, multi-layered national ballistic-missile defense system to deter and defend against nuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies.”
On China: “Mitt Romney will implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system.” To that end he would maintain a strong military presence in the region, strengthen alliances with partners like India and “confront the fact that China’s regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights.” This is perhaps one of the best critiques of Obama’s human rights non-policy on China: “If the United States fails to support dissidents out of fear of offending the Chinese government, we will merely embolden China’s leaders. We certainly should not have relegated the future of freedom to second or third place, as Secretary of State Clinton did in 2009 when she publicly declared that the Obama administration would not let U.S. concerns about China’s human rights record interfere with cooperation ‘on the global economic crisis [and] the global climate change crisis.’ A Romney administration will vigorously support and engage civil society groups within China that are promoting democratic reform, anti-corruption efforts, religious freedom, and women’s and minority rights.”
The section on the Middle East sets out a overarching goal: “To protect our enduring national interests and to promote our ideals, a Romney administration will pursue a strategy of supporting groups and governments across the Middle East to advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity, and human rights, and opposing any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence. The Romney administration will strive to ensure that the Arab Spring is not followed by an Arab Winter.” Having a policy, any policy, would certainly be a refreshing change from the current administration.
The sections on Israel, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan (“Our objective is to ensure that Afghanistan will never again become a launching pad for terror and to send a message to any other nation that would harbor terrorists with designs on the American homeland”) are worth a read. What strikes me is the degree of clarity of purpose, the connection between means and ends and the resolve to return to a policy based on American values and a realistic assessment of our rivals and enemies. (On Russia, for example, Romney pledges: “Upon taking office, Mitt Romney will reset the reset. He will implement a strategy that will seek to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform.”)
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the white paper is that it is coherent and comprehensive, qualities altogether absent in nearly three years of the Obama administration foreign policy. Romney and his advisers, if nothing else, have done the legwork for the next administration (whether his or another Republican’s) in devising a road map for guiding us back from the chaos, weakness and moral confusion that have been the hallmarks of the Obama years.