Romney Foreign Policy Vision Is a Big Dud

Mitt Romney - Mike Segar _ Reuters - banner.jpg Reuters/Mike SegarAs David Frum has said, if the Republican Party is an oligarchy, Mitt Romney will head the GOP ticket.  If it is a democracy, anyone but Romney will. 

Running through his remarks -- Romney checks off the Iran box, punctuating his citation by calling Iran's leaders "suicidal fanatics."  This is a bit like John Bolton calling Kim Jong Il "scum" just before Colin Powell was working to get the North Koreans to suspend a nascent nuclear warhead production capability.  Romney, or Bolton for that matter, 'might' be right -- but the comment practically assures Romney's impotence in finding an alternative path with Iran if he were to win the White House.

But we also know that Iran is not led by suicidal fanatics.  They would have behaved very differently if 'suicidal'.   We know Iran is led by a combination of tired ideologues who are corrupt and intoxicated on their positions and power and privileges not unlike what happened after many decades of power-holding by Soviet elites.  There is not much revolution left inside Iran's top tier -- but there is a lot of jostling for power and there is a thirst for regional preeminence.  Romney's comment gives absolutely no indication that he would be any better than Bill Kristol's or John Bolton's war-mongering calls for a collision now with Iran.

Romney's second checked off box is Israel.  I believe in standing by Israel's security too -- but want Israel to stop confusing its long term and short term interests.  Israel is the super power in the region and sets the temperature in its neighborhood.  Romney talks of Israel as if it is a complete innocent and without capabilities of its own.  Tired.  And distracting from America's real issues.

Some years ago, I asked Chinese strategists what their grand strategy was -- and they said it was simple -- they just hoped the US would remain distracted in small Middle Eastern countries.  So far, Romney is giving China's geostrategic weiqi players exactly what they want.

And yes, China has not yet come up in Romney's talk as I reread it.

Afghanistan mentioned.  No clarity at all. 

Romney asks "will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for terrorists?" 

Mitt -- make the case why this matters one way or another.  Are there not havens for terrorists in many countries we don't invade and occupy?  And more importantly, do US force deployments in Afghanistan appear to the great powers of the world as force multipliers and the leveraging of American force -- or instead appear to be a trap containing American power?  China, Iran, Pakistan, the entire neighborhood perceive an American military that is overstretched -- and Afghanistan as a crippling rather than enhancing effort of US power projection.

He casually drifts by Pakistan -- not posing the key question which is whether we now be in some form of informal war with the Pakistanis given the public comments of US officials that Pakistan directed Taliban attacks against America's Kabul Embassy compound.

He then tosses in China between Pakistan and Russia -- asserting that China is bent on emerging as a globally consequential economic and military force.  But it's not enough to state the obvious.  What is the strategy to deal with this rise?  Are China's intentions the same as were the Soviet's? or different?  What are America's and China's strategic equities that need sorting and managing?  Is a collision inevitable? or will Romney suggest a path that will align the strategic interests of China and the US?

Then Russia. Romney asks will the Soviets be back?  A nation that is demographically collapsing will not go on a new warpath Governor Romney.  Your advisers know that.  Spend some time with Dov Zakheim or Mitchell Reiss.  They would not have made such ridiculous leading, vapid assertions.

Then Chavez, then Castro.  The realists on Romney's team know that the US-Cuba Embargo harms American interests more than helps -- and increasingly irritates a younger generation of Cuban-Americans who want to do business and make their fortunes in trade an investment in Cuba, while watching some of the Cuban diaspora in Central and South America as well as in Spain run ahead of them.  Do some poll work, Governor Romney -- the results are not tilting toward Ileana Ros-Lehtinen but rather towards a next generation of entrepreneurs.

Then Romney goes to Mexico -- drug violence and narco-crimes.  Illegal immigration and drug smuggling Nothing at all on Mexico being America's largest trading partner or the many positive avenues of engagement between the countries.   I'm imagining Romney doing something along the lines to the Hispanic vote of what John McLaughlin might say, "Bye-bye!"

Then Mitt Romney offers the Roger & Me, America as General Motors line:

Despite the agitations and clatter of the Tea Party, my hunch is that the Republicans are an oligarchy and Romney will be the last one standing when all the others have fallen. 

The Obama White House fears Romney and would have loved to run against Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Chris Christie of Sarah Palin (or Herman Cain!!).  Obama has spent so much political capital irritating the left and holding the pragmatic, wanna-do-a-deal center that for the Republicans to now throw a generally sensible, northeastern, Nelson Rockefeller style Republican at him seems like a game foul.

But Romney has been campaign tested once, and at least for the time being -- he's the candidate who deserves a deep dive into what he believes, thinks and who he surrounds himself with.

Presented by

Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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