No Ideas: Evaluating Romney's Speech
Posted by The Editors
This post by DA editor Jacob Stokes and DA contributors James Lamond and Kelsey Hartigan.
Today Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy address at the Citadel. It contained eight specific policy proposals. Like Romney’s previous speeches, this one doesn’t have the facts going for it. The address contained more in the way of nice-sounding rhetoric designed to enthuse his audience than it did in terms of serious policy proposals that can draw a contrast between him and President Obama. The lack of substance is disappointing because this is where Romney was supposed to get serious and lay out a platform. He released a list of his foreign policy advisors yesterday, most of whom were high-level players in the Bush administration, so it seemed like he’d be going for more.
Aaron David Miller characterized that disappointment best: “Our problems in foreign policy flow not from the lack of expertise and skill of the president but from the cruel and unforgiving world in which we operate abroad, and Mitt Romney can't fix that. He can, however, get America into a lot of trouble with tough talk, no strategy, and a failure to understand the world in which we live. We saw that movie in 2003. No sequels please."
Regardless, some of us here at DA have decided to take explore each of the policy proposals and then a couple other issues that came up. The proposals in bold. Happy reading:
1. Restore America's Naval Credibility
Romney announced he wants to “increase the shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15.” What he didn’t say was why. There was no strategic rationale and certainly no mention of how he plans to pay for it. The Navy requested $176.4 billion dollars for the 2012 budget year – and already proposed building 10 ships. Why is Mitt Romney proposing we build more ships than the Navy has requested – and how does he intend to pay for it? See his plan for massively increasing the defense budget below.
2. Strengthen and Repair Relationships with Steadfast Allies
Romney stated, “I will bolster and repair our alliances. Our friends should never fear that we will not stand by them in an hour of need. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I will count as dear our Special Relationship with the United Kingdom. And I will begin talks with Mexico, to strengthen our cooperation on our shared problems of drugs and security.” This is of course a neoconservative favorite line of attack. It presumes that the U.S. has “abandoned” its allies. It is an attack usually seen in terms of Israel and Eastern Europe with regards to Russia. Though Romney has spread out the theme a bit. This the strawiest of straw men. In what way is the U.S. position on Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in question or the Special Relationship not counted as “dear.” In addition, U.S.-Mexican cooperation on security and drugs is already far past just “talks.”
Just as a reminder for readers, here is what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said last month in the context of the rescue of the Israeli embassy personnel in Cairo:
“I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, ‘I will do everything I can.’ And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East.”
3. Enhance Our Deterrent Against Iran
Romney charged, “I will enhance our deterrent against the Iranian regime by ordering the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces, one in the Eastern Mediterranean and one in the Persian Gulf region. I will begin discussions with Israel to increase the level of our military assistance and coordination. And I will again reiterate that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.”
Apparently Romney doesn’t believe that the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet provides sufficient deterrence. However, his overly-militaristic approach is not without consequence. Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen has explained that the U.S. should be focused on talking to Iran – and that military action will not solve the problem with Iran. Admiral Mullen noted:
“We haven’t had a connection with Iran since 1979. Even in the darkest days of our – of the Cold War we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran so we don’t understand each other. If something happens virtually – it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be miscalculations which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world. So – and I think the Pacific and Asia, stability there as the – as one of the economic engines for the world for the foreseeable future, is something we all need to spend a lot of time on.”
Admiral Mullen has also said: "I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome… But from my perspective ... the last option is to strike right now."
Finally, the U.S. alliance with Israel is fundamental; security ties are closer than they have ever been. Since 2009, President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than any other world leader, and the U.S. and Israel held their largest-ever joint military exercise. Andrew Shapiro, Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, also notes "an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance, stepped up security consultations, support for Israel's new Iron Dome Defensive System, and other initiatives."
4. Commit to a Robust National Missile Defense System
Romney also said he would “begin reversing Obama-era cuts to national missile defense and prioritize the full deployment of a multilayered national ballistic missile defense system.” Not only was there no explanation as to how Romney would pay for this, but worse, experts agree that many of these programs aren’t worth funding until they start meeting certain testing requirements. The focus instead should be on programs that work In 2009, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen announced the administration’s new Phased Adaptive Approach, which will protect the US, our forward deployed troops and European allies through cooperation with Turkey, Poland and Romania- which have agreed to house certain components of the system.
And as a report from the Center for a New American Security demonstrated this week, the focus on the European missile defense system is much more pragmatic than Romney’s plan to focus on national missile defense. CNAS recommends in each of its budget scenarios that the U.S. should: “Prioritize operational activities tied to theater missile defense programs, such as the Aegis sea-based system, and provide less funding for experimental national missile defense programs.”
5. Establish a Single Point of Responsibility for All Soft Power Resources in the Middle East
Romney pledged the creation of an Arab Spring Czar. He said, “I will begin organizing all of our diplomatic and assistance efforts in the greater Middle East under one official with the authority and accountability necessary to train all our soft power resources on ensuring that the Arab Spring does not fade into a long winter.” This is not necessarily a bad idea. What is surprising though is that for all of the talk about democracy, human rights and American interests in the speech, his position on one of the most complicated and important shifts in international affairs is a procedural one that creates more bureaucracy. It is also a bit puzzling politically to propose another new czar position, given the Tea Party’s early focus on President Obama’s czars in protests. This is not likely to go over well that portion of the Republican electorate. Either way, I wonder what Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, thinks about this proposal.
6. Launch Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America
In the speech, Romney said, “I will launch a campaign to advance economic opportunity in Latin America, and contrast the benefits of democracy, free trade, and free enterprise against the material and moral bankruptcy of the Venezuelan and Cuban model.” Economic engagement and helping build strong democratic institutions in Latin America is a pretty good idea. And President Obama agrees. In March, following President Obama’s trip to south America, Julia Sweig, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that, "On the tangible side, Obama and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff announced ten new cooperation agreements--including deals on energy, science and technology, space, nuclear port security, and infrastructure development." The Miami Herald further reported at the time that: "Obama pledged $200 million to Central America to battle a new menace: drug cartels... He said the $200 million anti-crime package would ‘strengthen courts, civil society groups and institutions that uphold the rule of law' and address ‘the social and economic forces that drive young people towards criminality.’”
7. Conduct a Full Review of Our Transition in Afghanistan
On Afghanistan, Romney mused whether, “In Afghanistan, after the United States and NATO have withdrawn all forces, will the Taliban find a path back to power? After over a decade of American sacrifice in treasure and blood, will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for terrorists?” Romney also said, “I will order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military to secure that nation’s sovereignty from the tyranny of the Taliban. I will speak with our generals in the field, and receive the best recommendation of our military commanders. The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics.” Two questions flow from those statements: First, is preventing a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a vital national interest for the U.S.? If so, is Romney willing to add more troops to the fight and commit them for as long as it takes to prevent any political role for the Taliban in Afghanistan? Reporters should be badgering him for clarity on that point, especially as today is the tenth anniversary of the start of that war.
8. Order Interagency Initiative on Cybersecurity
This proposal is a promise to do what Obama has already done, and offered no changes to the policy. As former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism czar and cybersecurity guru Richard Clarke explained to DA, "We have a national cyber security strategy. He doesn't tell us what is wrong with that or what he would do, just that he would spend time devising yet another strategy." The current strategy is here.
In order to finance these outsize ambitions, Romney has proposed pegging the defense budget to GDP at four percent (in previous speeches at least, although not in this one). Remember, this is just the base budget, which does not include additional spending on the wars (see expansion of Afghanistan above). What the four percent number would mean for the base budget, though, is roughly a 14% increase year-on-year, and then it would continue to grow from there. Here’s the math. Currently our GDP is $14.58 Trillion. Four percent of that would be something like $583 billion. The FY 2012 request is floating somewhere around $513 billion. So if Romney’s plan came was implemented, you’d see something like a 14 percent increase year-on-year in the base defense budget. To be sure, Obama’s supposed cuts aren’t really cuts. But the rate of increase is drastically slower than 14%. Also, good luck to Romney on selling that to the Tea Party caucus.
Richard Clarke also had a strong reaction on the issue of troop levels. He explained, "[Romney] also says we need to increase the size of the armed forces because of the burden of the combat rotation schedule. That was true three years ago. Since then Obama did increase the size of the armed forces and now, with far fewer US troops in combat, the military plans to reduce the size of the armed forces again as we are exiting Iraq. The only reason that the combat rotation would be a problem in the future would be if Romney is planning some new war." NSN came issued a similar conclusion in a paper earlier this week.
On China, Romney asked if the country will “go down a darker path, intimidating their neighbors, brushing aside an inferior American Navy in the Pacific, and building a global alliance of authoritarian states?” The Navy thing is laughable. China just finished its first aircraft carrier, and it’s “a piece of junk.” The U.S. has 11. As for the alliance of authoritarian states, Romney is surely referring to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Current members include: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It’s a fledgling regional alliance and has no hope of going global.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the context of a quote from Benjamin Netanyahu. As corrected above, the statement came in the aftermath of the rescue of Israeli embassy personnel in Cairo, not, as originally stated, in the context of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN.
Photo: Mitt Romney Flickr