Last month, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the organization’s national convention in Reno. In his speech, Romney gave voters valuable insight on his foreign policy views and his vision of America’s role in the world for the 21st century. Americans should take notice.
Overall, there was nothing in Romney’s speech that would surprise anyone who has been paying attention over the past several months. However, it was a rare chance to get a complete picture of how the Republican nominee views the world and America’s place in it. Romney did what you would expect a challenger to do in a campaign, that is, harshly criticize (mostly unfairly) President Obama’s foreign policy record. He waxed poetic on America’s greatness, praised our veterans for their service and sacrifice and spoke fondly of our military. There is of course nothing remotely disturbing about any of those things, however Romney also revealed what kind of foreign policy president he might make, and those revelations are troubling.
Romney opened up by alleging that President Obama has allowed America’s status in the world to slip, referencing America’s “declining influence” over the past several years. He contrasted this with his vision of America saying, “I am not ashamed of American power. I take pride that throughout history our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict, and hope where there was affliction and despair…I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever.”
At face value, this seems like merely jingoistic saber-rattling – a pep talk for a superpower questioning its position in the world during a time of economic and political uncertainty. But how would Romney’s nationalistic vision of America play out in terms of actual policy?
Romney spoke at length about America’s declining influence in the world, the danger of this supposed development and the perilous nature of the globe in general. He referred to the world as “dangerous, destructive and chaotic.” Romney painted a picture of the world as a perilous and brutish place where we must constantly look for dragons to slay lest they devour our nation in flames. We are never safe, our freedoms never secure, our way of life perpetually at risk. The only way to stave off these dangers seen and unseen is to constantly seek them out. “Like a watchman in the night, we must remain at our post – and keep guard of the freedom that defines and ennobles us and our friends… in an American Century, we secure peace through our strength.”
This rhetoric may seem to display prudence. After all, we should always be vigilant and ready to defend ourselves. What are troubling are the practical implications of this mentality on foreign policy. We can always find an enemy to fight if we are looking hard enough. There will always be some threat just beyond the horizon that calls us to arms. 20th century American history is littered with examples from Vietnam to Grenada to Iraq. Right now, Iran sits atop the list of prospective enemies that alarmists like Mitt Romney are eager to vanquish.
Romney addressed concerns about Iran directly. The Iranians, Romney claims “are not going to be talked out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons… There must be a full suspension of enrichment, period.” This of course was not the first time Romney has expressed hawkish views on Iran. He has said repeatedly that under no circumstances must Iran be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
The logical conclusions of Mitt Romney’s position on Iran are sobering. Sanctions have had disastrous effects on Iran’s economy but have done little, if anything, to deter uranium enrichment and nuclear development. If Romney is correct in his belief that the Iranians will not be talked out of developing nuclear weapons, then negotiations are useless. If we also hold the position that Iran must be stopped from obtaining nuclear weapons, then the only logical conclusion is war. But it seems difficult to make the case that America will be any better off after another prolonged war in the Middle East. Over the past eleven years we have sacrificed thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the body count has mounted, so has our national debt and there is no evidence that these protracted occupations have made Americans any safer at home.
Romney follows by criticizing Obama for impending military budget cuts that he claims would, “severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats.” While it is misleading to place the blame for these cuts squarely on the President’s shoulders (after all, Congress is also responsible for the budget) it is not necessarily the case that these cuts would “impair our ability to meet and deter threats.”
We must not conflate military spending with defense spending. The two are not synonymous. Like the rest of our federal budget, military spending has grown exponentially over the past several decades, often with little justification or need for these vast increases. In reality, there will likely be little to no impact on our nation’s ability to respond to legitimate threats to our national security.
Romney makes the case that it is a bad time for cuts in military spending, citing military build-ups in other nations (presumably China), Iranian nuclear aspirations, radical Islamists, weapons of mass destruction and the ongoing war in Afghanistan as reasons to spend, spend, spend.
But if today is not the time for cuts in military spending then there is never a time. We just ended a costly and ill-conceived war in Iraq and are preparing to withdraw our armed forces from Afghanistan after well over a decade of occupation. Despite the fact that other nations are adding to their military capabilities, not a single one of them will come close to challenging the United States’ military supremacy anytime soon. Yes, China is making large strides in developing its military strength, but is nowhere close to matching American firepower. More importantly, China has given zero indications that it intends to attack the United States, our allies or anyone else for that matter. And yes, it is true that there is some evidence to indicate that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but the Islamic Republic does not have the capability to strike American soil. Furthermore, the regime in Tehran is certainly aware that any attempt to do so would be suicide.
Romney also claims that President Obama has abandoned our allies, including the Poles and the Czechs. Romney expressed outrage about a previously approved but recently cancelled plan to build anti-missile defenses in the two countries. Again, Romney demonstrates just how out of touch he is with the realities of today’s world. There is no thought about whether or not these anti-missile systems are needed. After all, it’s military spending so there is no reason to question need or efficacy.
While new missile defense systems in Eastern Europe may have made sense in 1982, it seems difficult to justify them now. The Cold War is over and Russia is not the threat that it once was. If the top national security threats to the Free World really are a nuclear Iran and radical Islam as Romney and most conservatives claim, how can he possibly justify spending finite resources on an anti-missile system as if we were still trying to tear down the Iron Curtain? But this is part of the problem: he does not feel the need to justify it. In Romney’s mind military spending is unequivocally good while any cuts to military spending are bad. There is no room for distinction between necessity and luxury, even in a time of relative peace and mounting national debt.
After touching on Hezbollah, Venezuela and the President’s alleged scorning of Israel, Romney moved on to Afghanistan and the danger of withdrawing our troops before the time is right. “But the route to more war – and to potential attacks here at home – is a politically timed retreat,” Romney said as he accused President Obama of placing politics above national security.
By a “politically timed retreat,” should we assume that Romney is referring to the fact that the majority of Americans are tired of seeing our soldiers killed in a conflict that no longer has serious national security implications for the United States and where it is unclear that further military involvement will achieve significantly improved security for the Afghans? It is unclear who Romney is trying to impress with these remarks. Granted this speech was delivered in front of a VFW audience whose views on foreign affairs are presumably more hawkish than those of average Americans. His position might have made sense in the Republican primary where Romney was fighting for conservative votes with the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, but it makes absolutely no sense in a general election when the majority of Americans clearly want nothing to do with prolonged military engagement in Afghanistan.
If Romney is willing to defy the will of the American people in Afghanistan, would he also be willing to put our armed forces in harm’s way for other questionable foreign adventures? This is just one of the many important questions sober-minded voters must ask themselves about Mitt Romney before November.