Romney's US drum-banging causes concern
WORLDVIEW:The front-runner extols muscle-flexing and not negotiating overseas. It is a dangerous narrative
‘GOD DID not create this country to be a nation of followers,” Mitt Romney sermonised in what was supposed to be a defining foreign policy speech last autumn. “America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will.”
A campaign White Paper around the same time, written for him in a similar if more cerebral vein by Eliot Cohen, a historian and security expert who worked for Condoleezza Rice in the state department, berated what it saw as the “high council of the Obama administration” view of the “US as a power in decline”, a “condition that can and should be managed for the global good rather than reversed”.
But it takes more than proclaiming American exceptionalism, the “American century” or declaring this moment “America’s moment” to define a foreign policy. There was, and has been since then, little more than broadbrush hints on offer.
At a time when US global influence is being challenged, notably by an emergent China and by an ever- tightening squeeze on its military budgets, such declarations might suggest an almost delusional, harking-back to the better times of unchallenged US global pre-eminence to the Republican front-runner’s worldview.
US presidential elections are rarely won, or even fought, on the battleground of foreign policy and so its precise articulation is inevitably of more concern to those of us abroad who may be affected by it than to voters at home.
Nevertheless, there is a credibility gap that must concern Romney’s team.
Voters, by a far clearer margin than on the economy, prefer to trust Barack Obama’s handling of international affairs (by 53 to 36 per cent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll last month).
Even among Republicans, Romney struggled to win trust over his competitors – Newt Gingrich was favoured two to one on the issue before he quit the race.
On one topic, the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, Romney might have found some traction, an area where the president’s sanctions diplomacy leaves him clearly vulnerable.
Hawkish pro-Israeli Republicans have banged the drum for a pre-emptive strike and the primary debates reflected what conservative columnist Peggy Noonan parodied as “We should bomb Iran Thursday. No, stupid, we should bomb Iran on Wednesday.”
Romney declared late in 2011: “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. But pressed on how, exactly, his strategy would differ from Obama’s, Romney was a little unspecific. In February, 49 per cent of voters in a Fox News poll were at least “somewhat confident” that Obama could stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons; 44 per cent said the same of Romney.