Romneyworld: uncannily similar to Obamaworld?
A WORLD where Mitt Romney holds the single most powerful office may sound a very different place from that of Barack Obama. In many ways, however, it is likely to look uncannily familiar.
On one global issue after another, the Republican candidate has lambasted his opponent for his alleged failure to stand up for US interests and values abroad – a traditional theme of Republican attacks on Democrats. But to the extent Romney has put forward concrete proposals, most have been all but indistinguishable from the status quo.
The main caveat concerns a future president Romney’s response to a crisis, where instincts may prove more important than long-held plans.
Arguably the most striking sentence in the Republican candidate’s speech to the Virginia Military Institute yesterday relates to Syria. The current administration has allowed weapons supplies to flow to the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups from the Syrian diaspora, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, rather than provide them directly. Romney does not commit the US to supply arms, but talks about working with “our international partners” to deliver them. Whereas the Obama administration appears to have made great efforts to limit the flow largely to guns and ammunition, Romney said the rebels should be equipped with “the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets”.
Providing shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles in significant numbers could decisively tilt the strategic balance and accelerate the fall of the regime. Such a policy would also have a wide array of other consequences, both intended and otherwise. Romney presents the move as directed as much at Iran as Assad.
Such a confrontation would have the same repercussions that persuaded Obama to stay at arm’s length.
An escalation would have such far-reaching consequences, some Washington diplomats argued, that a Romney administration could well rethink the policy. They pointed out that his political career has been characterised by caution, and suggested that a true test of his intentions would be who, among the squabbling camps within his 30-strong coterie of foreign policy advisers, gets the big jobs if he wins.
The narrow favourite for defence secretary is Condoleezza Rice, who helped shape the more cautious foreign policy of Bush’s second term, and was given high billing at this year’s Republican convention.
Spencer Ackerman, a writer on national security for Wired magazine, suggested that with yesterday’s speech, Romney was in effect running “for Obama’s second term”.
The most important foreign policy and national security decision the next president is likely to have to take is whether to launch an attack on Iran with the aim of destroying or at least hindering its nuclear programme, either alone or with Israel and others. That choice, O’Hanlon says, “will be the centrepiece of the next presidency, whoever wins”.