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October 22, 2012

Romney Wrong on American Weakness
Posted by Bill R. French

Aircraft-carrier-2Tonight’s debate was right to include the rise of China as its own section for discussion. But taking the challenge posed by China seriously first requires an honest look at the Sino-U.S. relationship. Regrettably, here, Governor Romney instead decided to paint picture of fear and paranoia. In this effort, Governor Romney insinuated that China perceives the United States as economically and militarily weak due to the policies of the Obama Administration. "How strong are we going to be?" he asked, going on to to say:

“They look at the fact that we owe them a trillion dollars and owe other people 16 trillion (dollars) in total, including them. They -- they look at our -- our decision to -- to cut back on our military capabilities -- a trillion dollars. The secretary of defense called these trillion dollars of cuts to our military devastating…”

 First, it is disappointing that on the serious question of Chinese holdings of U.S. debt, honest conversation has been systematically avoided. Far from being a situation in which the United States is weakened or beholden to China because of Beijing’s holdings of U.S. debt, China actually depends upon buying American Treasury Bonds to favorably regulate the value of its currency. James Parker at The Diplomat explains:

There is an old banking saying which goes something like: “If you owe your bank a thousand pounds, you are at their mercy. If you owe a million pounds, then the position is reversed.” …  China is not a commercial bank; it did not decide to “lend” its foreign exchange reserves to the U.S. per se. Rather, China’s accumulation of reserves is a by-product of the government’s exchange rate policy. It used to buy large quantities of U.S. dollar assets because it had to maintain reserves of the currency to which the renminbi was pegged (although Beijing has allowed the renminbi to fluctuate around a basket of currencies since 2005)…

Present day, Parker continues, "the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) maintains a weakened renminbi by agreeing to purchase nearly all U.S. dollars accumulated by Chinese exporters and corporations." This scheme works because some of these dollars, in turn, are invested in U.S. Treasury Bonds. The return on investment on these bonds helps to finance the scheme by counteracting some of the inflation generated by replacing American dollars with renminibi. The remainder of his explanation is highly recommended, though slightly technical.

Similarly disappointing was Romney’s treatment of the American trade deficit with China.  After characterizing the trade deficit as a “trade war,” he went on to say:

“It’s a silent one and they’re winning. We have an enormous trade imbalance with China. And it’s worse this year than last year. And it was worse last year than the year before.”

To be sure, trade imbalance presents serious challenges. But characterizing those challenges as a “trade war” polarizes the issue far too severely, blurring the fact that US-Chinese bilateral trade benefits the United States, even while in deficit. For instance, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, “on average, of every dollar spent on an item labeled ‘Made in China,’ 55 cents go for services produced in the United States. In other words, the U.S. content of “Made in China” is about 55%.”

Second, in the context of China cited above, Romney implies that the future of the U.S. military – which, baring sequestration, will see its budget continue to rise slightly in real dollars – is somehow demonstrating weakness. While the modernization of the People’s Liberation Amy should be taken seriously, the balance of forces remains sharply in Washington’s favor. For example, the “budgetary basics” confirm this, as I have pointed out with former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb: “The Department of Defense estimates that Chinese military expenditures were $105 billion in 2006, while the US spent $419 billion on defense, a gap of $314 billion. In 2010, US military spending increased to $533.8 billion while Chinese military spending increased to only $160billion, a gap of $373.8 billion -- nearly $60 billion greater than the gap in 2006.”

Yet, Obama was right to consistently point out tonight that it is military capabilities and not budgets that determine military power. Here, while it is certainly the case that the PLA has developed considerable capabilities, they pale in comparison to the ability of the United States to project power around the world. Awareness of this massive disparity in power projection capabilities has even generated discussion about the option for the United States to simply exersize "offshore control" of China's economy by closing maritime choke points in the unlikely and tragic event of conflict.

For instance, as the president pointed out tonight, “We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them.” While the United States maintains 11 aircraft carriers, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) possess only one  – the Liaoning. As the PLAN’s sole carrier, The Liaoning will be limited to training operations for the foreseeable future as the Chinese navy figures out the basics of carrier aviation, as Naval War College professor Andrew Erickson has explained. Indeed, as he points out, the Chinese have even yet to successfully land an aircraft on her hull.

What was it that Governor Romney was saying about weakness, again?

The Skinny on Bayonets
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

In case you were wondering, MG Paul Eaton (ret) tells me that everyone is still issued a bayonet to go with his/her M4. The problem being that M4s are shorter than older rifles, so it is actually harder to fight with one.

Romney's Evolving Stances
Posted by James Lamond

Abc_romney_etchasketch_nt_120321_wblogIn tonight's debate, Governor Romney outlined his strategy towards Iran. He stated he wants to lay out a pressure track of economic sanctions, which he says are working, combined with increased pressure to isolate Iran diplomatically, backed by a strong  credible military threat. This was the message that came out of his speech last week at the Virginia Military Institute as well. This has also been the cornerstone of the Obama administration strategy over the past three years. 

However, this has not always been Romney's position. In June, when speaking to a conservative audience Romney stated

"I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite... You look at his policies with regards to Iran... He's almost sounded like he's more frightened that Israel might take military action than he's concerned that Iran might become nuclear."

Of course, tonight he said he would do more sanctions and more diplomatic isolation, but that is not quite the "opposite" of what the president is doing. Accepting the premise of the strategy is a welcome development, considering some of the hawkish stances that his advisors have taken. However it is also another of the Governor's inconsistencies on foreign policy issues. A common trend throughout this campaign has been an attack from Romney on a current policy, then outlining essentially the existing approach. This has been the case on Syria, Afghanistan and Libya

Earlier in the campaign season, Romney had embraced the rhetorical bluster of his neoconservative and hawkish advisors. Now as the election approaches he is forced to give specifics, he has shifted towards a more centrist approach.  As friend-of-DA Brian Katulis wrote in this Sunday's New York Daily News, "Though in policies and plans, Romney offers nothing to distinguish himself from the President, in tenor and tone, he carries a neoconservative shtick."


Debating America's Response to the Green Movement
Posted by James Lamond

In tonight's debate, Gov. Romney brought up a repeated criticism on Iran. That President Obama made a huge mistake in not being more supportive of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran. The argument has been repeated by conservatives critical of the administration for three years. The oversimplification of this argument is astonishing. However, if one remembers correctly the whole reason for caution in support of the uprising was that this was that the both the U.S. and the protesters did not want this to be perceived as a a U.S. inspired political movement. It is also simply a counter-factual argument, but as usual, Dan Drezner says is best:

The beauty of this criticism is that it rests on a magical counter-factual that will never be tested: according to this narrative, if only Barack Obama had been more forceful in June 2009, then the Iranian regime would have crumbled and sweetness and light would have prevailed in the Middle East. It's a great campaign argument, because we'll never know what would have happened if Obama had acted as Rubin, Romney et al would have liked him to act. Romney can pledge that he would have acted differently in the summer of 2009, and he'll never, ever have to flip-flop on it.

The thing is, this argument that Obama could have tipped the scales in 2009 is utter horses**t. Recall that, during the uprising, the leaders of the Green Movement wanted nothing to do with more sanctions against Iran or with military action -- it took them six months of brutal repression for them to even toy with embracing targeted sanctions. Indeed, the reason the administration tiptoed around the Green Movement was that they did not want the Khamenei regime to taint the resistance as a Western-inspired creation. If Obama had been more vocal during the initial stages of the movement, it likely would have accelerated the timetable of the crackdown. And no U.S. action short of a full-scale ground assault could have stopped that.

Drezner also points out a potential side effect that that is so often left out of this line of this arguemnt: "such an approach would also spur Tehran into accelerating its nuclear program as a means of guaranteeing its own survival (which is, by the way, the one constant of Iranian foreign policy)." 


A Renaissance for the Project for a New American Century?
Posted by The Editors


By Bill French

In 2000, the Project for a New American Century published its capstone policy document, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” As is well known, the document formed the core of neoconservative national security thought and the intellectual DNA of what later became the Bush Doctrine. But now, a decade later, how alive are its ideas? A quick sketch of the document alongside parts of Governor Romney’s national security platform shows that some of PNAC’s ideas well positioned for a renaissance.

This should come as little surprise given that six of Romney’s national security advisors are former PNAC members, including Eliot Cohen – who wrote the forward to Romney’s primary foreign policy document – and Robert Kagan – a Romney top foreign policy advisory.

That said, neoconservatives are only one camp in the Romney campaign.  The other is composed of moderate realists. This helps to explain a peculiar, confusing  feature of Romney’s national security campaign: some policies appear moderate and barely distinguishable from the present course – presumably attributable to the realist camp – while on other issues, the campaign holds radical positions reflective of neoconservativism.

At the broadest level, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” was a strategy to achieve an American dominated 21st century. “At present,” it reads, “the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”

The Romney campaign evinces signs that it remains committed to the same ends. In Mitt Romney first major foreign policy address, he openly declared, using familiar language, that “This century must be an American Century.”

These objectives are not entirely unique in the history of American foreign policy. In 1948, George Kennan in Policy Planning Study 23 prescribed similar goals:

"… we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3 % of  its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity w without positive detriment to our national security.”

However, despite the Cold War having ended a decade before “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” was written, PNAC had gone beyond Kennan.  Above, Kennan introduces a critical qualifier: power should be pursued “without positive determinant to our national security.” That is, the pursuit of power must be self-limited. Yet, this self-limiting was absent from PNAC, and there is reason suspect something similar may fester in a Romney Administration.

Neoconservative foreign policy been unable to self-limit in this respect because it considers military power as the basic way that dominance must be achieved.  PNAC noted that, “America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces.” Under this assumption, the risks of overstretch, blowback and opportunity cost by neglecting other national security tools – i.e. incurring ‘determinant to our national security’ – is heightened. And if the objective must be dominance, and if dominance can only be achieved by military power, these risks seem more necessary than they would otherwise, and even acceptable.

Evidence suggests that a Romney foreign policy may go down the same path. While his main foreign policy document, “An American Century,” includes discussion on non-military power, his more elaborated national security proposals have heavily emphasized the role of the military. For example, Romney has infamously proposed to spend 4% GDP on the Pentagon. Note that this is above the 3.5-3.8% of GDP recommended in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” Meanwhile, Paul Ryan calls for reducing the State Department’s budget from $47.8 billion in 2012 to $43 billion in 2013 and $38 billion by 2016. As Gordon Adams has observed, "If this were to happen…it would amount to the further escalation of the militarization of American foreign policy."

For a sense of scale, consider that Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis has shown that by 2022, spending 4% of GDP on the Pentagon would equal $986 billion per year. Alternatively, the current trajectory of defense spending would otherwise result in $2.6 of GDP in 2022, for a total yearly cost of $629 billion. The total difference between the two plans, according to Harrison, are $1.8 trillion. Some estimates place it higher.

Should the Romney campaign be given the opportunity to form a transition team to the White House after the election, his part-neoconservative, part-realist national security team will have to resolve its internal differences. While it is impossible to predict the odds for how successful the neoconservative component of his advisors will be in influencing policy, the potential for a PNAC renaissance looms.

Foreign Policy Debate Preview -- Do You Believe in Magic?
Posted by David Shorr

103011krugman2-blog480Monday night's debate on foreign policy will feature one candidate with a strong pragmatic record and another with a lot of rhetoric about strength that he tries to pass off as a policy platform. Three weeks ago Governor Romney published a universally panned Wall Street Journal op-ed on the Middle East, prompting me to wonder whether the mere veneer of a foreign policy is the best Romney can muster

The truth is, Romney has a one-point foreign policy plan to go with his economic plan. For the past year, Romney has argued that a more bullheaded approach -- brooking no possibility of others resisting American wishes -- will get the rest of the world to straighten up and fly right. As I've said before, right-wingers like Romney really should heed an adage widely cited in the military: the enemy gets a vote. Meaning, other players aren't necessarily obliged to do what we want them to.

Meanwhile, Governor Romney and his advisers regularly emphasize words like leadershipresolvestrength, and exceptionalism as if they're the Republicans' magical powers to melt away the world's problems and problem-makers. This naive ideological faith that steely determination can shape world events seems to be the essence of Romney's approach, and it prompted me to borrow a page from Paul Krugman and coin the idea of the Resolve FairyTM. (The trick-or-treating daughter of a fellow Krugman fan dressed as the Confidence Fairy is pictured above.) And I have to give a shout-out to Daniel Nexon over at Duck of Minerva for putting it all together and casting Romney as a misguided Teddy Roosevelt wannabe who advocates "talking loudly and carrying a magic wand."

But going back to the debate, let's get a few things clear:

  • President Obama has put Iran under the strongest sanctions and international pressure it has ever confronted -- a success he's achieved not through bluster but dilligent coalition-building. The sanctions that have spurred hyperinflation in Iran are the major inconvenient fact for the Romney campaign, and it would be impossible to carry them out without the cooperation of other nations. As for the relatively new GOP talking point that they call for quicker, earlier imposition of sanctions, it's important to note that recruiting international support gets much harder when the United States tries to rush things -- rather than persistently yet steadily spotlighting Iranian intransigence as President Obama's done. For one thing, the international community is a little leery of American alarmism after that whole episode with the WMD that turned out weren't in Iraq. Also NB: for all the Romney-ites emphasis on supporting America's friends and allies, South Korea, Japan, and India are among the biggest importers of Iranian oil. 
  • If Romney had been in the White House last year, Qaddafi would still be ruling Libya. Can we finally call BS on the Republicans' way over-hyped Benghazi "scandal?" For one thing, I have a hard time listening to Chairman Darrell Issa's supposed concern over national security when he mishandles sensitive information and endangers the lives of Libyans who have helped the United States (not to mention House Republicans slashing the State Department security budget). For another thing, by now it's obvious what Obama's harshest critics are really after: not the facts of the attack (when and by whom it was planned), but playing word games over which political side makes the attack sound worse. And for Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans killed, it would be a sad legacy if we forgot the real meaning of Benghazi. President Obama worked with NATO allies and Arab partner nations to mount Operation Unified Protector to keep Qaddafi from slaughtering thousands of his own people in Benghazi -- where Stevens was the first senior official on the ground, despite the dangers -- and at the time Romney said Obama was going too far
  • China is another case where Obama has shown results in contrast to Romney's hotheadedness. Believe it or not, the Benghazi attack wasn't the first time Romney inserted himself in the middle of a delicate international situation before the dust had even settled. President Obama's team was still working closely with a Chinese dissident who had been hosted and protected by the US embassy, Chen Guangcheng, when Romney impulsively seized on a sudden reversal by calling it “a dark day for freedom” and “a day of shame for the Obama administration.” Today Chen and his family are living in Manhattan, where he is a visiting fellow at New York University. And as for the Chinese currency, President Obama's persistent pressure on Beijing helped induce an 11% appreciation in the value of the renminbi -- to the benefit of US exports -- having success where President Bush failed to achieve any in his eight years. (For a reminder of John Bolton's role in the Romney campaign's hot mess of a foreign policy, see this dissection of Bolton's own op-ed on Chen Guangcheng.)

So on Monday night I expect Romney to fall into the trap H.L. Mencken famously described: "for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." And I expect President Obama to call him on it. 

October 16, 2012

Pentagon: Now on Sale at The Foreign Policy Auction
Posted by The Editors

Guest Post by Ben Freeman, Ph.D.

Ben Freeman is an Investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, where he specializes in Department of Defense personnel issues, weapons procurement, and the impact of lobbying by foreign governments on U.S. foreign policy.

AuctionThe ongoing debate about Pentagon spending and sequestration is a glaring example of how special interests with deep pockets can convince policymakers that even their most absurd claims are true.

After slashing tens of thousands of jobs during years of record profits, the defense industry finances “studies” professing their ability to create jobs. While threatening to layoff off even more workers to save for their corporations’ money, big Pentagon contractor CEO’s enjoy lavish compensation packages worth more than $20 million. To put that into perspective, the Pentagon could pay more than 300 soldiers with the compensation of just one of these CEO’s.

But, Pentagon contractors aren’t the only special interest that would like to keep the spigot of taxpayer money flowing to the Pentagon. For decades, lobbyists working for foreign governments have been quietly, but effectively, working to keep Pentagon money flowing to foreign countries. From fighting to keep and expand military bases in Germany, to lobbying for sending dozens of new F-16’s to Taiwan, foreign lobbying has been instrumental in keeping the Pentagon budget bloated.

Foreign lobbying’s impact on the U.S. military is one of the few issues in America politics that can, without hyperbole, trace its roots back to Adolf Hitler. As the Nazi party came to power in Germany during the 1930’s it sought to influence citizens in other countries, particularly the U.S. On October 22, 1936 a New York Post headline read “Nazi Publicist on GOP Payroll,” and reported that the Republican State Committee was employing prop­agandists associated with U.S. Nazi groups. Outrage over this and similar incidents ultimately led to passage of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) – the first major piece of lobbying legislation at the Federal level.

Reports filed under FARA tell stories of special interest influence that are eerily reminiscent of the tactics employed by big Pentagon contractors. From making large campaign contributions on the very same day they meet with a Member of Congress to discuss a foreign client’s needs, to drafting legislation on behalf of a foreign government, there is little that many D.C. lobbyists won’t do for their foreign clients.

And, most of these governments aren’t exactly staunch U.S. allies. As I chronicle in my book, The Foreign Policy Auction, almost every country that experienced political uprisings during the “Arab Spring” lobbied in the U.S. The Egyptian government, specifically, was aggressively lobbying for U.S. non-intervention before, during, and after the revolution in Egypt. The Pakistan foreign lobby went on a lobbying blitz following the death of Osama bin Laden, in what was a relatively successful campaign that kept more than a billion dollars in U.S. military aid flowing to the country harboring the mastermind of 9/11. China routinely lobbies to discuss the U.S.’s growing debt. Even Iran has lobbyists working in the U.S.

In short, almost every major U.S. national security decision in the 21st century has been influenced by the lobbying of foreign governments.

This undermines U.S. sovereignty and costs taxpayers billions of dollars a year. Foreign lobbyists have even cost the family members of terrorist attack victims $4.5 billion, as I document in The Foreign Policy Auction. Here’s how the story goes:

Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya sponsored and carried out several terrorist attacks that killed U.S. citizens, including the bombing of France’s UTA Flight 172. After years of fighting in U.S. courts, families of UTA Flight 172 victims were awarded $6 billion in damages on January 15th 2008 by a D.C. District Court.

Two months later the Libyan government was looking for a way out of paying this hefty sum, and signed a $2.4 million contract with The Livingston Group, headed by Bob Livingston, former Republican Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Ultimately, this investment helped Libya get all their terrorist attacks forgiven, during the height of the “War on Terror,” for just pennies on the dollar.

Within a month of signing the contract, the Livingston Group had, on Libya’s behalf, contacted Minority Leader John Boehner, numerous officials at the State Department including the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs and Secretary Condoleeza Rice’s chief of staff, as well as staffers and Members of a number of Committees including the Judiciary, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Relations.

On July 31st the Libyan Claims Resolution Act that the Livingston had been pushing was introduced. By that time the firm had contacted nearly 600 Legislators, staffers, members of the Executive Branch, and other influential players on behalf of Libya, according to FARA records. The Livingston Group was even gracious enough to provide Legislators with actual legislative language and a script for discussing Libya in Congressional hearings. In short, agents working on behalf of a known terrorist were putting words in the mouths of U.S. politicians.

According to an official statement, the families of the victims of flight 772 were not pleased with the Bill because it would, “invalidate the court’s judgment, and allow Libya to avoid a court judgment. This simply cannot be what Congress intends.”

Unfortunately for the victims’ families, the bill passed both Chambers that same day. Within weeks the bill was signed into law and the U.S.-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement was signed by U.S. and Libyan representatives in Tripoli. The Agreement required Libya to pay just $1.5 billion to U.S. families who lost loved ones in all of Libya’s terrorist attacks; $4.5 billion less than the UTA Flight 172 victims’ families had been awarded just 8 months before.

The real tragedy is that Qaddhafi was neither the first nor the last terrorist to be pardoned through the work of foreign lobbyists. The State Department announced just last month that the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), or People's Mojahed in Organization of Iran was being removed from the list of foreign terrorist organizations, after years of running a well-financed lobbying, advertising, and public relations campaign.

The fact is that every single day the agents of foreign governments are working to undermine U.S. foreign policy. The Auction is always open. The only question is - which country is buying your government today?

October 08, 2012

Romney’s Evolving Security Policy: Unreality and Distinctions without a Difference
Posted by Bill R. French

Romney vmiToday, Governor Romney gave his third major speech on foreign policy in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to pass the commander-in-chief test. This came just a day after John Lehman, one of Romney’s advisors and Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, offered further details into the campaign’s much flaunted plan to increase shipbuilding from 9 to 15 vessels per year. Reading both sets of proposals together confirms that the campaign is continuing its foreign policy agenda of taking positions that either stay the course plotted by the current administration -- while claiming some sort of a new departure -- or represent basic misunderstandings of key security realities.  

Here are four of Romney’s proposals that fit into those categories and leave unanswered questions.

1. “I will deepen our critical cooperation with our partners in the Gulf.”

The current administration has already dramatically increased security cooperation with Gulf partners. Included in that cooperation has been a $30 billion dollar arms deal to Saudi Arabia which contains 84 modified F-15s – adding to the country’s already enormous military advantage over Iran – and integrating the capabilities of American regional partners into an interoperable missile defense system. The latter effort has involved a multi-billion dollar deal to sell the United Arab Emirates the advanced THAAD ballistic missile interceptor system and the construction of a missile defense radar site in Qatar. In addition, the United States recently concluded a naval exercise focused on countering underwater mines with over 30 countries in the Gulf in response – the first of its kind.

Hence, the question to the Romney campaign is obvious: what has been deficient about U.S. cooperation with its Gulf partners and what should be done differently?

2. Lehman: Add an additional carrier air wing to the U.S. Navy.

While Lehman’s proposals made for an interesting read -- including a number of serious thoughts --  this was among those that appeared intended to help check the box on having elaborated on Romney’s much touted shipping plan without having met the burden of making sense. That’s because the basic math and operational realities of the Navy’s carrier fleet and air wings make this idea dead in the water.  

The background here is that despite having 11 carriers, the Navy maintains only 10 air wings of around 80 aircraft. Romney now wants to go 11-for-11. But the reason for the current number of air wings is because the full carrier fleet is never fully deployed at once, making having enough planes for the 11th carrier superfluous. At any given moment, a number of the Empire-State-Building sized ships are undergoing repair or nuclear refueling. Because of this, according to a RAND study, Nimitz class aircraft carriers are deployed an average of 19 percent of the time. Of course, the Navy can surge more of its carrier fleet into action -- as is being done currently with a deployment of two carriers in the Gulf and two in the Pacific --  but since 1990, the Navy has never surged more than 6 carriers into service at once. For these reasons, what function an expensive 11th air wing would have is unclear.

3. “I will call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark.”

Of Romney’s latest round of foreign policy commitments, this one is surely the easiest to meet: calling on other countries to do something can be done in the time it takes to utter a phrase. However, having that call be meaningful or accompanied by any reasonable chance of success is another matter entirely. While hopefully those who have projected the Euro Crisis will extend some 20 years are wrong, the fact remains: no solution remains in site and funds are scarce for military spending. Even if the crisis was to be ‘fixed’ overnight and the continent’s debt was brought under control, the European budgets would no doubt remain tight and highly prioritized.

With this backdrop, one wonders what plan Governor Romney has that will convince European members of NATO to spend more on defense when their publics generally want to reduce or maintain current levels military spending?

4. “I will vigorously pursue the terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans.”

Given the tragic deaths of Ambassador Stevens and three other American diplomats, this bromide is perhaps the most disconcerting of those released by the Romney campaign in its national security media blitz.  Here, Romney tacitly paints the picture that the administration is not  pursuing those responsible for the attack against the U.S consulate in Benghazi but all evidence is to the contrary.

First, Libyan officials have just announced a number of arrests made in connection with the attack.

Second, there are mounting signs of potential military action against the group that perpetrated the killings and affiliated organizations. The Washington Post is reporting that:

 “The White House has held a series of secret meetings in recent months to examine the threat posed by al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and consider for the first time whether to prepare for unilateral strikes.”

Further, the New York Times reports that:

 “The top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is compiling so-called target packages of detailed information about the suspects…the command is preparing the dossiers as the first step in anticipation of possible orders from President Obama to take action against those determined to have played a role in the attack on a diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three colleagues three weeks ago.”

 In connection with these developments, the intelligence group Stratfor is reporting on "curious U.S. and French military deployments.”

What, then, would Governor Romney be doing differently on this score? 

October 05, 2012

Initial Steps Towards a Right-Sized, Targeted Approach to Maritime Stability in the Western Pacific, Part 2
Posted by Bill R. French

7492646-chalkboardLast week I began to outline some initial steps available to the United States to encourage greater maritime stability in the Western Pacific. The overriding sense was to examine immediate, near-term options that were both ‘right-sized’ and ‘targeted.’  Emphasizing ‘targeted’ approaches calls for actions to address instability associated with ongoing disputes specifically. This should seem obvious but is in contrasts to the approach taken by some conservatives who treat maritime stability as a 'trickle-down effect' of regional balance of power and American military presence. Emphasizing ‘right-sized’ approaches calls for being mindful of the potential consequences of overreaction and escalation – a case I’ve made elsewhere while critiquing the official GOP proposal for dealing with Chinese assertiveness.

This is not to say ‘hard’ measures cannot be useful, only that they must be smart. To be sure, exploring smart approaches to maritime stability in the region is particularly timely given the administration's extensive use of hard power in the Pacific -- recently summarized by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter -- and the continued standoff between Japan and China over disputed territories in the East China Sea.

The three recommendations proposed last week work in that direction. However, depending on Chinese behavior after the leadership transition, stronger measures may be worth considering. Should Beijing continue or increase its assertiveness, it may be constructive to signal that more assertive behavior  will come at higher costs designed specifically to undermine the effectiveness of such strong-armed strategies. 

Targeted military and security consequences are one way to affect Chinese calculus in this way. For American policymakers, this creates the problem of having to carefully balance the strength of the signal with the risks of stoking the fears and insecurity of Chinese decision makers. A potential solution to this problem is outlined below as a fourth recommendation:

Continue reading "Initial Steps Towards a Right-Sized, Targeted Approach to Maritime Stability in the Western Pacific, Part 2" »

October 01, 2012

Romney's Foreign Policy Veneer
Posted by David Shorr

Every time Mitt Romney tries to talk about foreign policy he only reveals himself as an emperor with no clothes, and his latest Wall Street Journal op-ed on the Middle East is no exception. Now it's true that Romney trots out my very favorite Republican magic word resolve -- a vague-to-meaningless virtue that supposedly deters hostile deeds and melts animosity. But Romney's WSJ piece represented such a new level of vacuity it made me think differently about Team Romney's approach.

I'm starting to think Governor Romney is merely trying to create the appearance of foreign policy. The best way to describe it would be akin to Stephen Colbert's famous truthiness. What would that be, foreign policyness? Or policyish? 

In other words, it's time to flip around the question about the lack of policy specifics and look at what's being provided in its place. I can't add much to what Greg ScobleteDaniel Larison, Danielle Pletka, and Jennifer Rubin have already said about how far Romney fell short of offering a constructive alternative to deal with the Middle East. Except this thought: what if this bland nonsense goes as far as the Romney camp feels compelled to? What if this is their unreflective, arrogant, of-course-we'd-do-it-better idea of a foreign policy? What if this looks like foreign policy to the nominee offering himself as the next commander in chief?

As I wrote in reaction to Romney's July speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Republicans' 2012 platform has often made me wonder if they really think foreign policy and national security are as easy as they make it sound. Their proposals carry no trace of difficult trade-offs, unintended consequences, or defiance in the face of "resolve." When I read passages like below, it only confirms a sense of the self-delusion: 

Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We're not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies...

Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We're unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law....

The Arab Spring presented an opportunity to help move millions of people from oppression to freedom. But it also presented grave risks. We needed a strategy for success, but the president offered none....

In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values.

But this Middle East policy will be undermined unless we restore the three sinews of our influence: our economic strength, our military strength and the strength of our values... 

For me, what really solidified this notion of the Romney campaign's confusion of superficiality with substance was top Romney adviser Jim Talent's appearance on Chuck Todd's Daily Rundown this morning. Go ahead and watch the clip for yourself, but I was struck by the off-handed way former Senator Talent said: "we can have a foreign policy where we stabilize these parts of the world if we'll act in the bipartisan traditions of foreign policy since World War II." Apparently all it would take to settle things down in the Middle East would be to "set forth a clear vision for where the region ought to go." Point the way to constitutional governance and respect for human rights, support those who are with us, oppose those who are against, and there you are! Stability, I guess. To his credit, Chuck Todd pressed the question of how deeply the United States should involve itself in molding political order in the region. Talent's response: "we should set forth a vision and identify and give credibility" to the good guys. (Hmmm, maybe I was wrong to pick on resolve, maybe vision is really the thing.) Then for good measure -- and with an attitude of why-don't-you-get-this impatience --Talent rattled off the essentials of the post-WWII consensus: "lead," "work through alliances," "maintain robust power," "anticipate events." 

As I say, what's emerging is that Mitt Romney isn't actually holding back the details of his foreign policy; he thinks he's offering them.

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