In Foreign Policy Romney Needs to be More than Not-Obama

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People who like the idea of the world continuing to spin around the sun inhabited by a species called humans, would do best to vote for Barack Obama in 2012.

Before the Second World War, and certainly before the First World War, nobody much cared who was president of the isolationalist United States.

Since the dawn of the Cold War, however, the United States has been one of the most powerful nations on earth. And since the collapse of the Soviet Union and until China manages to eclipse it, the United States is the single most powerful nation on earth. As a result, who the president is these days matters a great deal.

Mitt Romney has shown himself to be supremely unsuited to the role of president through his many foreign policy blunders. In these pronouncements, Romney has shown himself to be too much like George W. Bush. And well-adjusted people remember, if Republicans do not, what the world was like when Dubya led the way with his Cowboy Diplomacy.

As Danielle Pletka put it in a New York Times op-ed: “Mr. Romney needs to persuade people that he’s not simply a George W. Bush retread, eager to go to war in Syria and Iran and answer all the mail with an F-16.” Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

The AEI spoke loudly during the Bush administration. John Bolton is a prominent example of what sort of thinking the AEI brought forth onto the world when Bush unleashed them. It is significant that someone from the AEI is saying this about Mitt Romney.


The Bush Doctrine is admirably suited to Romney’s bullying style. The Bush Doctrine held as its central tenet (its only tenet, really) that the United States had the legal and moral right (more of a moral obligation, really) to attack anyone who at some undetermined future date “might” pose a threat to U.S. interests. The Bush Doctrine was a magical casus belli generator.

Need to invade somebody for no particular reason? Sure, declare that country to be a threat and take them down. Like Iraq. Or, turning to Romney, like Iran.

A better case might actually be made for Iran. They are certainly bellicose enough themselves and they’re ruled by fundamentalist Muslims and worst of all, they’ve crossed the line no regime dares cross and hope to get away with it: they’ve threatened Israel. If there is one thing Republicans love more than money, it’s Israel.

Now certainly there are workarounds. There is this thing called diplomacy. Israel is chafing at the bit, eager to strike first. Nobody is condemning Israel for wanting to start a war, or to put it another way, to cash a check drawn on the United States. Because you know if Israel starts a war with Iran, the United States will pay the butcher’s bill, not Israel.

We’ll also fund the damn thing, at a time when our economy is just beginning to recover from Dubya’s two un-funded foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’re not even out of Afghanistan yet.

So there is this little thing about Romney wanting to turn control of America’s foreign policy over to Israel. Doesn’t that bother anybody? Romney says he’d do that. He has come right out and said he’d give Israel the keys.

Teddy Roosevelt talked said to walk softly and carry a big stick. But he never said to give the stick to somebody else. The statement sounds bellicose but it is actually an appeal to peaceful negotiations. Roosevelt said that his type of diplomacy was “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”

We didn’t get any forethought, let alone intelligent forethought, during the Bush era. Bush was a shoot first, ask questions later  type of guy, and the questions were optional. Romney sounds like he is cut from the same cloth.

Romney seems to be exhibiting some forethought here, telling us what he’d do, but it’s not intelligent forethought. The problem with handing over the big stick is that you’ve given up any control of the situation. You can throw the idea of peaceful negotiations out the window the second you hand Netanyahu the keys.


Pletka points out thatCriticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. ”

The Obama administration is well aware of this. As Sarah Jones reported here yesterday, the White House is very eager to debate foreign policy with a guy who again and again reveals his complete ignorance of the world outside of where he has his off-shore bank accounts.

And the alternatives? The alternative, in so far as Romney has gone into details at all, involves the projection of American strength overseas. This, says his foreign policy director, Alex Wong, would involve “the restoration of a strategy that served us well for 70 years.”

Ahh. The Cold War. No walking softly. You can’t walk softly when you’re marching and stomping. And stomping is so wondrously fascist. What is there not for a Republican to like? Feeding the military industrial complex, ruinous defense spending. And not just carrying a big stick, but shaking it, and worse yet, using it to whack miscreants and would-be miscreants alike.

The New York Times reveals that, “In a speech on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr. Romney will declare that “hope is not a strategy” for dealing with the rise of Islamist governments in the Middle East or an Iran racing toward the capability to build a nuclear weapon, according to excerpts released by his campaign.”

I wouldn’t write off hope just yet, not that I think there is any evidence that the pragmatic Obama is relying on hope. We know Romney doesn’t care much about hope. We remember how Romney opposed Obama’s support for bringing down Libyan strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi and we remember Romney’s “just no way” approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Hope? Hope gets in the way of strapping on a six-shooter and going all Cowboy on the world stage.

Romney isn’t going to mention his miscues, like Libya. He is going to focus on what he says Obama did wrong, which was apparently a failure of bellicosity. Romney is, in foreign as well as domestic terms, running as an anti-Obama. This allows him to condemn Obama in specifics without getting specific himself.


He never actually tells us exactly what his foreign policy will be. As Pletka points out, he hasn’t given us any alternatives. Maybe, as Obama quipped,  they’re just too good to share? Or maybe he knows we’ll laugh when we hear them, as when Romnney said Russia was our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” or when Liz Cheney, who is working for Romney, accused Obama of abandoning a country that hasn’t existed for 20 years.

We laugh now, and we might laugh for a time later, at least once, until a Romney misstep starts the nukes a flying and strips forever from the surface of the earth the species known as homo sapiens.

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