Romney sets out his foreign policy
The Republican candidate promised ‘American leadership’ and a robust approach, writes LARA MARLOWE,in Washington
THE REPUBLICAN presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought to differentiate his foreign policy from President Barack Obama’s in an address at the Virginia Military Institute yesterday. “Hope is not a strategy,” Romney said, lambasting Obama in a speech titled The Mantle of Leadership.
Romney claimed Obama’s weakness had left the world thirsting for American leadership. If elected, he promised to enforce a robust foreign policy that would “shape” events, particularly in the Middle East. The high-blown rhetoric about the US being “the best hope of humankind” seemed to confirm presidential adviser David Axelrod’s quip that Romney wants to return to the 1950s.
Romney quoted Winston Churchill and Gen George Marshall, men active in the middle of the last century. He said: “The 21st century can and must be an American century.” The term “American century” was coined by Time publisher Henry Luce in 1941. Romney compared the Arab Spring to the second World War, saying: “We have seen this struggle before. It would be familiar to Gen George Marshall. In his time, in the ashes of world war, another critical part of the world was torn between democracy and despotism.”
The simplistic comparison failed to address the two most salient facts underlying US impotence in today’s Middle East: that the “darkness” Arabs have emerged from was in most cases maintained by US-backed dictators; that where Arabs benefit from democracy, they vote for Islamist parties.
The White House dismissed Romney’s speech as “bluster and platitudes”. Romney defined only three substantive differences between himself and Obama. He would dramatically increase the military budget, would “ensure” the Syrian rebels “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets”, and would not allow any “light of day” between the US and Israel.
Romney promised to “build 15 ships per year, including three submarines . . . implement effective missile defences” and vowed “no flexibility with Vladimir Putin”. The pledge sits uneasily with his promise to reduce the deficit. Obama often refers to Romney’s plan to give the military “$2 trillion it hasn’t even asked for”. The allusion to Putin presumably means Romney would reverse Obama’s cancellation of the US missile shield in former Soviet satellites.
Romney said Obama “has failed to lead in Syria, where more than 30,000 men, women and children have been massacred by the Assad regime over the past 20 months”. He noted that “violent extremists are flowing into the fight”. There are perhaps 100 militias operating in Syria, and the Obama administration has reportedly discouraged allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar from arming them, out of fear they may strengthen Islamic extremists such as those whom the US armed in Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet invasion.
“I will work with our partners to identify and organise those members of the opposition who share our values,” Romney said, noting that Iran is sending weapons to Bashar al-Assad. “We should be working no less vigorously through our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran.”
Romney placed full blame for the failure to reach peace between Israel and Palestine on Obama, and none on his friend, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He promised to “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel”.
He spoke differently last May, in a secretly recorded speech at a Florida fundraiser. “I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and I say there’s just no way,” he said. “You recognise that this is going to remain an unsolved problem . . .”
Romney reproached the Obama administration for initially describing the September 11th raid on the US consulate in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including the ambassador, as a “random act”. He also said the assault “cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long”. Assaults on US diplomatic posts were “the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others . . . who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”
One was left wondering where Romney really stood. His stated policy of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, of using sanctions against the regime in Tehran, and of increasing military co-operation with Israel is the same as Obama’s. But would the Republican candidate make war on Iran? “For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions – not just words – that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.”
Threat? Or mere bluster?