The Rest of the World: Romney takes more shots at Obama during speech on foreign policy
- Oct. 12, 2012
- 2 Comments
On October 8, Mitt Romney delivered a major foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. Naturally, he spent much of his time attacking President Obama. He addressed the core issues with the requisite enthusiasm – the civil war in Syria, the attacks in Libya, the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear weapons program, China’s growing influence and so on. He spoke with vigor and self-assurance. After pummeling the president on the debate platform, he had improved poll numbers in his back pocket and a more imposing stage presence than ever before. But the speech itself was worse than unconvincing – it was silly.
Romney incessantly characterizes Obama as a withering appeaser, but his record speaks for itself. For example, under Obama, there have been 294 drone strikes in Pakistan, up from 52 during the Bush era. This statistic is somewhat misleading because drone technology has drastically improved over the past few years, but this shouldn’t distract us from Obama’s willingness to use drones frequently and effectively. Obama also authorized a surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. At the end of 2012, al-Qaeda’s top commanders are like bloodthirsty, regenerating zombie heads that have to be routinely severed. The Obama administration has been extremely violent and undeniably successful in its pursuit of these villains.
And yes, Obama deserves substantial credit for the death of Osama bin Laden. Both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were opposed to the strike on bin Laden’s compound, and Obama had to issue the order independently. He weighed the options and made the right call. This stands in stark contrast to Romney’s strange assertion that Obama has been “leaving our destiny at the mercy of events” for the past four years. Many people, including Romney, have also absurdly argued that Obama should avoid mentioning one of his finest achievements in office. Fortunately, he doesn’t oblige them.
Almost halfway through his speech, Romney almost compliments Obama’s drone policy before taking aim again, “Drones and modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East.” But using these “important tools” in place of other options and “leading from behind” when it’s prudent to do so are constituents of Obama’s overall strategy. The United States “led from behind” in Libya to great effect. In fact, the campaign was successful enough to compel Libyans to flood the streets and demonstrate their solidarity with American victims of the embassy bombing. The United States should be working tirelessly to garner support for a similar campaign in Syria, but the international community has apparently lost its resolve. Obama’s Syria policy is the only point Romney gets right (although arming the rebels isn’t good enough, either).
Let’s take a look at a few elements of Romney’s “national security strategy for the Middle East.”
Speaking about Iraq, Romney first highlights a few fundamental problems (escalating violence, increasing Iranian influence, etc.) and tries to erect a case against Obama’s course by saying, “And yet, America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence.” This is one of Romney’s weakest and nastiest arguments, and he’s been repeating it for months. The U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement was signed before Obama took office and it required the United States to completely withdraw its troops by December 2011. It’s astonishing that Romney continues to berate Obama for upholding the hard-won sovereignty of the Iraqi government.
With regard to Iran, Romney desperately tried to distinguish himself from Obama. He promised to handle Iran “through actions, not just words” – such as sending aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf and implementing tougher sanctions. Wait a minute. Obama has already done both of these things.
In Afghanistan, Romney said he would “pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s identical to Obama’s strategy. However, 22 seconds later, Romney changed his mind, saying, “I’ll evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to protect my political prospects, but to protect the security of the nation.” Here’s what Romney is saying: It’d be nice to get out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but conditions may dictate an extended presence. Thus, the 2014 date is utterly arbitrary.
I began by calling Romney’s speech “silly.” This may not seem like the proper word, but I’d like to defend it. Big, bold pronouncements about “an American century” should be attached to real, transformative policy prescriptions. But Obama’s foreign policy has simply worked too well. Romney fulminates against Obama right before he promises to either do the exact same thing or do something worse to set himself apart. If Obama loses the debate on foreign policy, it won’t be because of his foreign policy.