Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisors Eliot Cohen and Richard Williamson have provided details of Romney’s differences from Obama on foreign policy. But if we take the New York Times version as approximately accurate, it boils down to nuances and that Romney would continue the basic post World War II U.S. foreign policy. But would he do it as effectively as the President?
Here are the four differences reported in today’s New York Times. We’ll take them one at a time:
“…he would have already told Iran that he would not allow it to get close to building a bomb, setting a “red line” in a far different place from President Obama’s.” Note that they don’t say where. The red line of course means the circumstances under which we would go to war with Iraq. Until Romney says at what point he would draw this red line for combat, we have to assume that at best he’s being a little more aggressive, but basically following the Obama line of negotiation and economic sanctions.
“He would tell the Egyptians that if they wanted $1 billion in debt forgiveness — as promised by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this month — they would have to put far more effort into protecting American interests in the country, starting with the United States Embassy.” The Egyptian government has already beefed up security and tussled with protesters. Linking a show of support for a fragile democratic government to doing something it has already done strikes me as little more than bluster.
“And he would provide far more aid to elements of the Syrian opposition, including… ‘facilitating’ the provision of lethal arms from other Arab states. But, like President Obama, he would stop short of arming them directly.” This ostensibly aggressive statement turns out to be nothing different as well, because for only the naïve don’t recognize that any aid to the Syrian opposition facilitates the provision of lethal arms, because everything reduces to money and if you have to pay less for x, y and z, you’ll have more for weapons and ammo. If the advisors mean that they would provide more money and “advisors,” they’re merely grandstanding because they have no idea what the Obama Administration has really done to help the Syrian insurgents.
“And the United States would have been far more involved in the formation of a new Libya, the advisers insisted, though they conceded it was not clear that could have stopped the attack that killed the American ambassador there and three other American officers.” Again, they don’t say how much more they would have done and they can’t say how involved the U.S. was, because they really don’t know.
Romney has surrounded himself with neo-con advisors and wherever there’s a microphone or an Internet connection the neo-cons expatiate on the differences between their policy and mainstream U.S. foreign policy under the Democrats. Despite their protestation, it’s practically the same policy, except the neo-cons think we’re in a holy war with Islam and are a bit more trigger-happy when it comes to extraordinary measures and sending in troops.
But no Democrat Administration has called for disarmament or even the unilateral dismantling of our nuclear capability. All base foreign policy on the economic interest of U.S. multinational corporations and the need to secure a supply of oil. While stepping back from the extremes of waterboarding and other torture, the Obama Administration has shown itself willing to circumvent U.S. and international law and due process. We still have thousands of contractors in Iraq and we still rely on these mercenaries to wage war. The many successes in the war against terrorism scored by the Obama Administration have come through violence.
After 9/11, a Democratic president would have responded as bellicosely as Bush II to the threat of terrorism and troops would have gone somewhere, probably Afghanistan and Pakistan. That they went to Iraq was a bad executive decision. We will never know why the Bush II Administration decided to invade Iraq because the reasons they gave the world turned out to be lies. Based on history, there is every reason to believe that both a Democratic and Republic regime would be prone to another enormously tragic and expensive error in judgment.
My conclusion: the strategy will be nearly the same under Romney, but what about the execution?
We know that Romney wants to install as key policy makers many of the men who advised the Bush II Administration. The argument I would make here is the same one Bill Clinton made on domestic affairs: They screwed it up before, so why should we give them another chance?
And then there’s the two leaders—Obama versus Romney on foreign affairs. The nation rates Obama way ahead and so do I. As I detailed in blog entries of September 13 and August 1, Romney has shown himself to be surprisingly unsuited as a diplomat. He doesn’t pick up on standard etiquette cues that everyone else seems to get and he tends to speak before he has enough facts. He also suffers frequently from “foot-in-mouth” disease, which is never good when dealing with foreign governments whose heads have their own little red buttons connected to missile silos. On a talk show earlier this week, Republican royalty Peggy Noonan compared Mitt’s style to Dick Nixon’s, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment.
By contrast, Obama has taken most of our troops and contractors out of Iraq, found Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, organized most of the world against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, regained the respect in the world that we lost under Bush II and remained friendly trading partners with China. I am confident that McCain would have tried to complete most of this agenda because it’s all part of long-term U.S. foreign policy. But Obama did it, and I trust him more than I trust Romney to keep doing it, even as I condemn much of what constitutes are long-term policy such as focusing so much on the needs of multinationals and not immediately dismantling all our nuclear bombs.