Mitt Romney's Foreign Policy in 5 Bullet Points


Their big assumption: that the rest of the world is looking for U.S. leadership

RTR38XDW-615a.jpg Romney shakes hands with cadets after his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

On Monday, Mitt Romney delivered his first major foreign policy address since he spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Convention on July 24. Although there were few differences from his previous speeches, it is increasingly apparent that there are five core principles that underlie the Romney worldview.

  • First, the world is a terrifying place. Romney warned on Memorial Day: "I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It's not." He doubled down on the threat-mongering at the VFW by reaffirming, "The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic." And during the Obama administration, Romney added, "The threats we face have grown so much worse." Of course, all metrics suggest that the world is actually safer than at any point in history, and the only plausible threats facing Americans are self-generated.
  • Second, Romney's proposed foreign policy is as detailed as a book cover without the table of contents and supporting text. While Romney clearly identifies his world vision, he omits any elements of a strategy that is required to achieve that vision. In lieu of specific policy recommendations, he repeats variations of the words "strength" and "leadership." His only specific recommendations--such as increasing the U.S. Navy from 285 ships to 350 in 10 years--are stand-alone concepts, since there is no overall strategy that they could flow from.
  • Third, the notion that leadership overrides strategies or policies assumes that a President Romney would convince or compel other states to do what is plainly not in their self-interest. Yesterday, for instance, Romney said he would "call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark." In 1959, President Eisenhower warned that Europeans were "making a sucker out of Uncle Sam" by refusing to pay their fair share of the defense burden. Since then, every president and secretary of defense has failed to compel NATO allies to sustainably increase their defense spending. Ten years ago, the United States accounted for 63 percent of NATO defense spending, today it is 77 percent . How is Romney specifically planning on convincing NATO allies--particularly amid an economic recession reverberating throughout Europe--cough up more for defense?
  • Fourth, given Romney's inability or unwillingness to articulate any strategies, or differences between his vision and that of the Obama administration, voters can assume that a President Romney's foreign policy would actually closely resemble President Obama's.
  • Finally, however, the main distinction is Romney's repeated conviction that it is the duty and responsibility of the United States to shape and lead the world, which is desperate to be shaped and lead by Washington. "There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East," Romney said yesterday. It is exactly this flawed mindset that has repeatedly begot trouble in the past, particularly in the Middle East. This dual belief in U.S. influence and the global craving for U.S. leadership could be dangerous, if Romney acts on its implications.

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Micah Zenko is a Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World. He writes regularly at Politics, Power, and Preventative Action.

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