Mitt Romney has finally set a place and date for his much-anticipated foreign policy speech. Next Monday, he’ll go to Virginia Military Institute to talk about national security. So what should he say?
He should commend the president for his successes, pointing out to the president’s base how badly he has departed from his 2008 promises. He might try something like this: “I want to commend the president on bowing to reality and dropping the idea of closing Gitmo and trying KSM in New York City. And I think his expansion of the drone program begun under President Bush has had many successes, although I am concerned about the number of collateral casualties and whether we are losing the ability to obtain intelligence from al-Qaeda terrorists.”
The speech comes at a critcial juncture in the campaign, after a stunning debate victory. He, therefore, should make certain to connect his foreign policy indictment to his overall criticisms of the president.
The place to start, quite obviously, is Libya. We learn today more about just how delinquent the administration was in protecting the lives of our diplomats. Eli Lake writes: “In the six months leading up to the assault on the United States consulate in Benghazi, the State Department reduced the number of trained Americans guarding U.S. facilities in Libya, according to a leading House Republican investigating the Sept. 11 anniversary attacks. The reduction in U.S. security personnel increased America’s reliance on local Libyan guards for the protection of its diplomats.” The Associated Press confirms:
Despite two explosions and dozens of other security threats, U.S. officials in Washington turned down repeated pleas from American diplomats in Libya to increase security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi where the U.S. ambassador was killed, Republican leaders of a House committee said Tuesday.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chairman Darrell Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee said their information came from “individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya.”
Issa, R-Calif., and Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the attack three weeks ago in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was the latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months before the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S.
This is outrageous, and Romney would be smart to show some righteous anger. Moreover, he should blast the notion that Clinton can shove this into an internal investigation, the results of which will be known only after the election. (Would the media tolerate this if George Bush tried to keep a scandal hidden from view?) He might even be gallant and say that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice shouldn’t take the fall for the series of misrepresentations to the American people. He should point the finger directly at the president for perpetrating the ludicrous idea that an anti-Muslim video made the jihadists do it. And he should properly rebuke Clinton and Obama for going on Pakistani TV to express remorse over it. No wonder Muslim countries want us to ban free speech; they think they have a receptive audience in the Obama administration.
Libya, then, is Romney’s route into more general criticisms of the president that extend beyond the Middle East and beyond foreign policy. Romney can drill down on cavalier way in which Obama treats grave responsibilities (the lives of our diplomats, the preservation of national security secrets, the willingness to endanger national security by sequestration cuts) and then move on to the administration’s reflexive resort to secrecy (What happened to that investigation on national security leaks? Why is he making up an executive privilege defense to prevent further investigation of Fast and Furious?).
Romney would be wise to paint himself as the man who sees the world the way it is, not the way that coincides with Obama’s political ambitions. The economy is not getting better. Iran is not stopping its nuclear program. Al-Qaeda has not been decimated. It is not simply that Obama is not honest with us (or himself, arguably); rather it is that without seeing the country and world clearly, we can’t address our challenges. And as we saw tragically in Libya, we leave ourselves open to attack.
There are two ways to illustrate this dangerous propensity beyond the Libya debacle.
First, Obama’s biggest national security failure has been on Iran. Sanctions have not slowed the nuclear weapons program, and the regime doesn’t find our threat of military action credible. Maybe that is because so many advisers talked down the military option. Obama didn’t forcefully support the Green Revolution. He wasted 18 months on fruitless negotiations at the onset of his term and has returned to that useless tact. The Iranian regime is not isolated. It just hosted a major United Nations gathering. Obama has made the use of force more likely because we’ve run out of options, and the Israelis may feel compelled to go it alone.
Second, the way to prevent wars and attacks on Americans is to maintain a first- rate military and display consistent willingness to defend U.S. interests and allies. When we slash defense, when we rush to the exits on Afghanistan over the objections of our commanders, when we show daylight between the United States and Israel, when we let Russia decide if we’re going to act vigorously in Syria and the Arab League determine our Libya response, we are begging for trouble. And now we have plenty of it.
Romney, in making this case, is explaining how Obama has made us more vulnerable and offering a rebuttal to the notion that he’s going to be reckless or start a bunch of wars. Now is not the time to sound defensive, but he can surely stress the point that recklessness is seen in lack of preparation, not acute awareness of our threats.
It would also be wise to knock down the straw man that the only option is between, on one hand, Obama’s retreat from the world and over-reliance on the United Nations and, on the other hand, a constant series of wars. Romney should make clear that defending our values and maintaining our military readiness do not mean that we will resort to military action lightly or without exhausting every option. The mother concerned that her son in the National Guard is going to be heading off to battle after battle should understand, if Romney does this well, that we can defend our interests with soft power (diplomacy, economic persuasion, rhetorical force) and by assisting those who want to help themselves (in Syria), without putting American boots on the ground. Here, Romney must walk a fine line, for he must firmly state that if all other measures fail and there is no one to act effectively but us (e.g., against Iran), then we will deploy force to defend our vital interests. But deploying force becomes less likely when we don’t engage in self-delusion about our enemies, snub our friends or recede from the international stage.
Finally, there is something to be said for standing with those who face oppression. Giving robust support to the Green Revolution, refusing to lighten sanctions on Cuba (which still holds Alan Gross prisoner) and declining to commend Vladimir Putin on his stolen election would not have cost us anything. To the contrary, these steps would have maintained our moral standing, given hope to the oppressed and pause to tyrants, and moved the needle toward a freer, safer world.
Now, that would be a speech worth the wait.