Friday, June 22, 2007

Mitt Romney and American Foreign Policy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has outlined his foreign policy in a new essay in Foreign Affairs. Romney offers an ambition agenda for shifting the direction of American foreign affairs. The article demonstrates robust clarity on the dangers facing America in the international system:

Today, the nation's attention is focused on Iraq. All Americans want U.S. troops to come home as soon as possible. But walking away now or dividing Iraq up into parts and walking away later would present grave risks to the United States and the world. Iran could seize the Shiite south, al Qaeda could dominate the Sunni west, and Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey. A regional conflict could ensue, perhaps even requiring the return of U.S. troops under far worse circumstances. There is no guarantee that the new strategy pursued by General Petraeus will ultimately succeed, but the stakes are too high and the potential fallout too great to deny our military leaders and troops on the ground the resources and the time needed to give it an opportunity to succeed.

Many still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam, specifically by those extremists who promote violent jihad against the United States and the universal values Americans espouse. Understandably, the nation tends to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq, where American men and women are dying. We think in terms of countries because countries were our enemies in the last century's great conflicts. The congressional debate in Washington has largely, and myopically, focused on whether troops should be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan, as if these were isolated issues. Yet the jihad is much broader than any one nation, or even several nations. It is broader than the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, or that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Radical Islam has one goal: to replace all modern Islamic states with a worldwide caliphate while destroying the United States and converting all nonbelievers, forcibly if necessary, to Islam. This plan sounds irrational, and it is. But it is no more irrational than the policies pursued by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and Stalin's Soviet Union during the Cold War. And the threat is just as real.

In the current conflict, the balance of forces is not nearly as close as during the early days of World War II and at critical points during the Cold War. There is no comparison between the economic, diplomatic, technological, and military resources of the civilized world today and those of the terrorist organizations and states that threaten it. Perhaps most important is the incredible resourcefulness of the American people and their unmatched education, inventiveness, and dedication. But today's threats are fundamentally different from those we grew used to confronting during World War II and the Cold War. Our enemies now have sleeper cells rather than armies. They use indiscriminate terror rather than tanks. Their soldiers -- as well as their victims -- include children. They count radical clergy among their generals. They communicate via the Internet. They recruit in schools, houses of worship, and prisons. They pursue nuclear weapons not as a strategic deterrent but as an offensive tool of terror.
Read the whole thing. Romney lays out key elements of his agenda. Of interest is his call to increase defense spending. He notes that "The next president should commit to spending a minimum of four percent of GDP on national defense." In that section, he also throws in a quick paragraph on strengthening the economy, including this point:

Our ability to influence the world also vitally depends on our ability to maintain our economic lead through policies such as smaller government, lower taxes, better schools and health care, greater investment in technology, and the promotion of free trade, while maintaining the strength of America's families, values, and moral leadership.
It would have been good to see these ideas developed in more detail. Instead, Romney goes off on the issue of energy independence. Check that section yourself. My feeling is Romney's been too influenced by the Kyoto-style, anti-Halliburton crowds structuring the environmental debate on the left of the spectrum. Romney's right to insist on energy independence, but some of his proposals might damage the economy (the call for more ethanol production, for example), or are too utopian in scope: "We need to initiate a bold, far-reaching research initiative -- an energy revolution -- that will be our generation's equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon."

The same can be said of his call for transforming "civilian capabilities," which is actually a new way to advocate "
reinventing government." In other words, we need to reform the bureaucracy for the new era. He makes some interesting points, but it's not clear if the creation of new agencies and civilian missions will strengthen American foreign and defense policies. (The jury's still out on the new Department of Homeland Security, although the record of that new cabinet-level department ought to be counsel against the efficacy of enlarging our bureaucratic structures.)

Overall, though, I like the Romney agenda. Best of all is his core set of values. He concludes with a recollection of his company with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres:

I recently had the privilege of spending some time with Shimon Peres....Someone asked him about the conflict in Iraq, and he said, "You need to put this in context. America is unique in the history of the world. During this last century, there was only one nation that laid down hundreds of thousands of lives of its own sons and daughters and asked for nothing for itself." He explained that in the history of the world, whenever there has been a war, winning nations have taken the land of losing ones. "America is unique," he added. "You took no land from the Germans, no land from the Japanese. All you asked for was enough land to bury your dead."
Romney then goes on to note the unique role for American leadership in the world. It's a point well taken.

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