Over the course of his presidential run, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has made some outlandish comment on foreign policy, including that he would "do the opposite" of President Barack Obama on Israel, and that Russia is the United States' "number one geopolitical foe." Romney has earned condemnations from multiple public officials for his statements, including from Vice President Joe Biden and former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell. In addition, the Los Angeles Times found last month that despite his heated rhetoric, Romney has yet to offer any specifics of what he would do differently than Obama-especially on Iran.
Now, Romney's policies have been examined by Fred Kaplan, a noted foreign policy expert and writer for Slate. Kaplan's judgment? That "Romney doesn't seem to understand - nor do some of his advisers - the extent to which the world has changed since the end of the Cold War," and that his "statements on foreign policy range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous."
Conventional wisdom holds that U.S. presidential elections do not hinge on foreign policy. On this point, conventional wisdom is almost certainly correct. But it shouldn't be, for two reasons. First, foreign policy is the one realm in which presidents can do pretty much what they want. (Congress may rant at some action but rarely halts it.) Second, in this election in particular, Mitt Romney's statements on foreign policy range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous.
Does Romney believe the things that he's said about arms control, Russia, the Middle East, the defense budget, and the rest? Who can say? He has no experience on any of these issues. But his advisers do; they represent, mainly, the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party (some, notably John Bolton, veer well to the right of even that). While not all presidents wind up following their advisers, Romney has placed his byline atop some of his coterie's most egregious arguments-not least, several op-ed pieces against President Obama's New START with Russia, pieces that rank as the most ignorant I've read in nearly 40 years of following the nuclear debate...
Romney doesn't seem to understand-nor do some of his advisers-the extent to which the world has changed since the end of the Cold War. International politics were never as cut and dried as that era's image suggested-two superpowers, each dominating its sphere of the globe and competing for influence at the margins of the other's domain...
Which leads to Romney's final complaint: that Obama's foreign policies 'have not communicated American strength and resolve.' It's not clear what Romney means by this; he cites no examples. The one case in which he had to concede Obama did well-ordering the killing of Bin Laden-certainly communicates more strength and resolve than anything Bush did on that front. To the extent America's image has been tarnished under Obama's presidency, the main reason has to do with what some see as an excess of 'strength and resolve'-the quintupling of drone attacks launched against targets in Pakistan, Sudan, and Somalia under Bush.
Which leads to some questions: What is Romney's position on drone strikes? What's his position on Afghanistan? During the Republican debates, he once said that his position was not to negotiate with the Taliban but to defeat them. What does that mean? Does he want to keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops there after NATO's 2014 deadline? To what end? Doing what? He also once said that military spending should consume at least 4 percent of gross domestic product. Obama's most recent military budget ($525 billion, not counting the cost of the war in Afghanistan) amounts to 3 percent. So Romney intends to raise the budget by one-third, or by about $175 billion a year-by more than $1 trillion in the next six years. Where is he going to get the money? What's he going to spend it on? No details. None.
Is Romney an extremist? Or, in keeping with the GOP approach to politics in general these days, has he simply calculated that it's best not to agree with Obama on anything? Either way, one thing is clear: He is not a serious man.
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