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October 06, 2011

Previewing Romney’s Foreign Policy Speech
Posted by Jacob Stokes

RomneyTomorrow Mitt Romney is slated to give a foreign policy speech at the Citadel. As a preview, I thought I would read through Romney’s last speech, given on August 30 to the VFW. The address is typical Romney-speak, but a few points jumped out at me as being purposely disdainful – just to put it bluntly – of facts. Here’s a sampling: 

1. “American strength turned the Cuban missiles around.”

As part of a riff on “Peace Through Strength,” one of Romney’s speechwriters dropped this bit in there. Two things, one small and one much larger. The first is a quibble, but the missiles were Russian, they were just stationed in Cuba. Secondly and more importantly, it wasn’t strength that turned those missiles around. It was Kennedy’s decision to mollify Khrushchev and the Russians by removing our missiles from Turkey—it was quiet, but we blinked. And the world is better for it. In other words, it wasn’t “American strength” that ended the Cuban missile crisis, but pragmatic leadership that stood up for American interests but not blindly. Knowing when enough “strength” is enough is the reason why the world didn’t descend into nuclear war. This is IR 101.

2. “American strength yanked Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole.” 

This one comes from the same riff and is literally true. But it of course ignores the fact that while American strength got Saddam Hussein, the ensuing chaos in Iraq was arguably the biggest foreign policy blunder in American history. Both the planning and execution were weak to non-existent, and the war has had enormous costs and consequences for our military. It’s deeply unserious to ignore the realities of the Iraq war this way. This sort of blasé thinking would be disastrous in a president.

3. “But when a president sends our men and women into harm’s way, he must first explain their mission, define its success, plan for their victorious exit, provide them with the best weapons and armor in the world, and properly care for them when they come home! Anything less is not befitting a great nation.” 

Again, very true on its face but also profoundly ignorant of the recent past. Especially given the announcement of Romney’s foreign policy advisors today—many if not most of whom served in the Bush administration executing policies that did just what Romney is denouncing—it’s disingenuous to make arguments like this in reference to Obama’s policies. To be sure, the surge in Afghanistan lacked a clear vision for success. But that war was begun and festered under Bush. One could make a case for Libya, but no American ground troops were ever in harm's way. Basically if Romney had another separate, more coherent vision, one that eschewed the policies of Bush and took on the substance of Obama's positions, fine. Then this language would be appropriate, even necessary. But here it rings hollow.

4. “And while our output has declined, the bureaucracy has increased.  There is enormous waste.  Let me give you an example: During World War Two, we built 1,000 ships per year with 1,000 people in the Bureau of Ships – the purchasing department, if you will. In the 1980’s we built 17 ships per year, with 4,000 people in purchasing. Today, for 9 ships a year, it takes 25,000 people! ... I will slice billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency and bureaucracy from the defense budget.  I will use the money we save for modern ships and planes, and for more troops.  And I’ll spend it to ensure that veterans have the care they deserve.”

This is Romney talking about defense spending. To be sure, there is waste, fraud and abuse in the system. It’s probably fair to say there’s a lot of it. But no matter how much of a “conservative businessman” you are, cleaning up the process a bit—especially if you don’t shift the strategies underpinning the procurement process in the first place--won’t allow you to go back to World War Two (as though that were desirable in the first place; ships are much more complicated now, to say the least). Moreover, there’s a lack of good reform ideas out there. How exactly does Romney propose to clean up the Pentagon, a task no one else has succeeded at? It should also be noted that if Romney insists on a tirade against the “bureaucracy” in the Pentagon, then his calls to peg defense spending to four percent of GDP run counter to his goal of reducing that bureaucracy. Feed the bureaucracy money, and it will grow.

Look, politicians say things in speeches that stretch the truth. It’s not desirable, but it’s a fact. And I’d be willing to write off a couple fibs to rhetorical excess. But when a candidate makes statements like these--statements that so blatantly turn their back on the reality and/or are just very poorly chosen anecdotes—you have to wonder whether reality is a concern at all.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow’s speech takes a more serious look the real challenges we’re facing.

Photo: Heritage

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