Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Romney in Foreign Affairs

Romney on Foreign Affairs

The current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine (July/August 2007; has articles by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, each giving their view of the lay of the land and outlining their foreign policy agendas. I assume both men have staffers who edited, if not produced the articles, but at least the ideas should fairly represent the candidates’ views. Here I review Romney’s article.

Romney’s essay begins badly, with an arbitrary division of the American polity into “realists” and “neoconservatives,” without defining either. In batting down this false dichotomy he then insists that all neoconservative policies are grounded in reality and all realists admit that “much of the United states’ power and influence stems from its values and ideals.” What? Is “neoconservative” a code word for “idealist”? Either this whole introduction is written in political codes that go over my head, or Romney is just inarticulate.

Today’s challenges are listed: the “conflict” (not war) in Iraq, the Taliban, terrorists, nuclear proliferation, Darfur, AIDS, and Hugo Chavez (!). This is a remarkable list for its inclusion of Chavez but not bin Laden, and its omission of climate change, the Middle East, North Korea, and many other vital topics.

Romney continues with a garbled call for a return to leadership values of the past, especially those of Eisenhower at Normandy and those of the space race during the Cold War. How those sets of values are comparable is beyond me. Romney’s main emphasis seems to be that after WWII, Americans established all manner of new government institutions, such as the National Security Council, the Peace Core, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. That was a good thing, for reasons unstated, and we should now be “equally bold.” We should radically reorganize the government? Why? He doesn't say, and I discern only dark intentions, discussed below, in this suggestion.

On Iraq: Romney says that “walking away” from Iraq would present “grave risks” to the United States, chief among them that a “regional conflict could ensue,” presumably worse than what prevails now. Irrationally, and without argument, he pins all his hopes on General Petraeus’ “new strategy” (which was to add a few more troops). While Romney will not predict success (however that might be defined), he insists that an unknown amount of additional time is needed for the “strategy” to succeed (whatever that might look like). This is the administration’s party line and since it does not make any sense, Romney can hardly defend it, so he merely quotes it.

Many people do not comprehend the threat of radical Islam, he claims. Violent extremists reject and resist the “universal values” of the United States, he says. This is a shockingly naive and self-contradictory claim. As terrorism against us demonstrates, U.S. values (whatever Romney thinks they are) are clearly not universal! Oblivious to the contradiction, he notes that radical Islamists seek destruction of the U.S. and worldwide domination. He’s probably right about that.

Yet this threat is “fundamentally different,” he says from the threats we faced during WWII and the Cold War. Why? Because our enemies now have sleeper cells rather than armies. Did communists not have sleeper cells? Does the Taliban not have an army? Romney’s reasoning is flawed but I think he is trying to point out that Islamic terrorists are not uniformed national troops that can be readily identified with any nation. Logic would compel one to ask then why we invaded Iraq, but he is not prepared to discuss that. He notes only that our president has led a “dramatic” response against terrorism. I agree that it has been dramatic.

More threats to national security are then listed: underfunded military, dependence on foreign oil, poor intelligence, pandemic disease, genocide, inept U.N., Iran’s nuclear capabilities. No solutions or strategies are offered against those threats. Instead, Romney bemoans the U.S.’s unpreparedness. We need a stronger military and a stronger economy, he says. Pursuing these will be “controversial” (for unstated reasons) and will be “strongly resisted” (by unnamed opponents) because it will require unspecified “dramatic changes to Cold War institutions.” Does he want to reorganize government bureaucracy; is that what he’s getting at? He hinted at this idea in his introduction and here it is again.

Strengthening the Military and the Economy: Romney would immediately add at least 100,000 troops to the services and massively upgrade weapons systems, up to 4% of GDP. This is easily affordable, he notes, in comparison to what we are spending to fight present wars (which implies he would end the current wars to offset that spending, although he does not say that. If he would increase the military budget while continuing to spend at present rates, the country would surely be bankrupt in a year or two).

What about the economy? Smaller government and lower taxes are the standard Republican keystones, not forgetting better schools and health care, more technology investment and promotion of free trade; all the while maintaining the strength of America’s family values and moral leadership (what’s left of it).

Energy Independence: Romney insists that American must become free of foreign energy sources. How? By ramping up energy technology and by drilling for oil in the Alaskan wildlife refuge. In addition, we need more nuclear power, ethanol, and exploitation of coal. Climate change is not mentioned, nor is nuclear waste disposal.

Rethinking Civilian Capabilities: By “civilian capabilities” Romney means the non-military aspects of the executive branch of government, such as the National Security Council, Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development and other components in banking, education, energy, law enforcement, and diplomacy. For the third time, he seems to be suggesting a massive reorganization of the bureaucracy. Why? He says, to provide clear chains of command, better communications, flexibility, and more “unity.”

It is difficult to understand what point Romney is getting at with this proposal but my gut fear is that he would like to create a monarchy with himself as king. This certainly has been the natural instinct of the Bush administration so it would not be a stretch of the imagination for Romney to wish to continue that trend. He speaks only about the need for national power and results, never about balancing constitutional freedoms and civil rights. Without understanding exactly what he is proposing, I find his vague allusions truly chilling.

Strengthening Alliances: Romney focuses on the UN Human Rights council as an example of a failed institution and he implies that he is not too keen on the rest of the UN either. In the one original idea that I discerned in his essay, he seems to suggest, however vaguely, that the UN is not reformable, and that instead, we should build an alternative to it out of the foundation of NATO, and use that as the international basis for defeating terrorism, stopping the spread of WMDs, and protecting human rights in places like Darfur.

It is not at all clear to me that this is a practical idea, but it is definitely an idea. I agree that the UN is unreformable due to the structure of the security council. An end run around the UN offers both opportunities and dangers. The chief danger would be the prospect of a virtually unilateral US foreign policy unchecked by its most serious opponents. That would be a good thing for the monarch in charge, less good for everyone else.

Romney says his first official act would be to call for a Summit of Nations to address international issues. This “S.N.,” possible successor to the UN, would lead to a coalition of states and NGOs that would assemble resources to support education, microcredit, human rights, health care and free market policies throughout the world but especially in modernizing Islamic states. Notwithstanding my fear and suspicion of a megalomaniacal power grab, the basic idea that it is in our long term self-interest to support trade and economic development in Islamic countries is a wise one. I am convinced that physical well-being will speak louder to people than vitriolic ideology.

Romney insists that “Congress must give the president the authority to move forward with these efforts…” But I say no. I have had it up to here with the American monarchy. No single person is wise enough to run this country, which is why we have a tripartite system. I am not prepared to dismantle our system of government for the sake of today’s whiz-bang idea, no matter how good it sounds at the moment.

I wonder if we must inevitably pay the price of allowing limited intellect, flawed personality, or even mental disorder into the Oval office as the only way to get strong ideas and bold changes into the executive. Healthy, educated, well-rounded individuals are overwhelmed by the job. It’s a frightening thought.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Bill:

    My compliments on your evaluation and critique of Mitt Romney's FOREIGN AFFAIRS position statement. While it is sad that Mitt doesn't have anything new to say (and leaves out most of the most critical issues in the process), he presents himself as being somewhat of a simpleton, a Republican party flat-liner, and a man without even a hint at a plan. Why should I put on new hiking boots for Mitt if he is going to trot us through the same minefield of duplicity, ignorance, avarice and dishonesty which have become the domestic and international signature of the current administration. We need and deserve a leader with a defined platform and plan, and not just another pallid posterboy of politics as usual. This particular Mitt doesn't have much of a grip on anything, except, perhaps his own ambition.