Today, two serious critics took aim at Mitt Romney's op-ed on arms control -- and the former Massachusetts governor got zinged. Sen. John Kerry, who is sheparding the new START treaty through the Senate, and Fred Kaplan (writing at Slate) took apart Romney's assertions point-by-point. Kaplan wrote that he had never seen anything as "thoroughly ignorant." And Kaplan is can't be dismissed as a liberal about matters of war.
Romney's errors of fact are telling in that they service a narrative, a way of thinking about the world, that contrasts very sharply with President Obama's, the man whose job he wants in 2012.
Take, for example, Romney's assertion that the U.S. is giving up more than Russia in terms of arsenal reduction: "We give; Russia gets." This is nominally true in a way that ultimately undermines Romney's point. First, as Kaplan and others note, the treaty calls for Russia to reduce its missile launchers to a certain number, and the US. is going to wind up actually destroying more launchers than Russia. But why is this the case? Because Russia has fewer launchers than the treaty limit and the U.S. has way more, as Romney himself notes. So, in theory, Russia could add launchers and the U.S. could destroy them, and the two will wind up with an equal number of launchers. Contextually, Russia isn't giving away as much because it doesn't have as much to begin with and has no intention of adding launchers. The 700 launcher limit was given to the treaty negotiators by the U.S. government's nuclear war planners. Secondly, given the current state of the arsenals the treaty requires, Russia will have to reduce more deployed warheads than the U.S. So Russia gives; the U.S. gets?
The calculation here is that arms control remains a zero sum game -- a tabletop exercise where nuclear supremacy is the goal. And that's where Romney's main assumption begins to drive the examples he's choosing: America's national security must never be impinged by its obligations to any other state. Doing so fundamentally projects weakness and subjects American actions to the veto of other nations.
The fact is that foreign policy is perhaps the one area on which Americans are comfortable with President Obama's leadership. They give him respectable marks for his policies and high marks for his commander-in-chief portfolio. Even as Americans disagree with Obama on the wisdom of closing Guantanamo Bay, they do not perceive him to be weak on foreign policy, or dangerously incompetent, or naive. If foreign policy is where Romney wants to intervene, he has his work cut out for him.
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