Mitt Romney’s anticipated foreign policy speech in Virginia was heavy on American leadership, but short on details.
As President, Barack Obama has presided over a country that has retreated from some of the world’s toughest, yet most important, security challenges. The values of leadership, decisiveness, strength, and morality that have guided U.S. foreign policy for decades have declined over the past four years, which has allowed for the slide of American security and prosperity to their lowest points in modern history.
These words summarize Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s speech to the Virginia Military Academy on October 8, where he spoke to a crowd of cadets and former military officials about how he would reform U.S. foreign policy and reaffirm America’s commitment to global leadership should he be elected president. The speech was billed by Romney campaign advisers as one of the most significant foreign policy speeches of the race, coming after a stellar debate performance against Obama last week in which even the most committed supporters of the President acknowledged defeat.
Romney’s address, however, did not do much to clear up where he stands on some of the most vexing foreign policy issues of the year. Much of the speech was dedicated to the typical Republican mantra of the United States being a nation that is uniquely endowed with a responsibility to lead others to a world of peace, prosperity, liberty, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness. Republicans and Democrats are often quick to cast the United States as an indispensable and exceptional nation, but Romney went further, arguing that people around the world are longing for more American resolve. Or, as Romney clearly expressed in his speech, the world is clamoring for a United States that is willing to step up to the plate and lead in the toughest of times:
“Our friends and allies across the globe do not want less American leadership. They want more—more of our moral support, more of our security cooperation, more of our trade, and more of our assistance in building free societies and thriving economies. So many people across the world still look to America as the best hope of humankind. So many people still have faith in America. We must show them that we still have faith in ourselves—that we have the will and the wisdom to revive our stagnant economy, to roll back our unsustainable debt, to reform our government, to reverse the catastrophic cuts now threatening our national defense, to renew the sources of our great power, and to lead the course of human events.”
Yet amidst critiquing Obama’s record and extolling America’s values, there were not many specifics as to how Romney would lead the nation as Commander-in-Chief. On Iran, Romney said that he would make it clear to the Iranian leadership that it would never obtain a nuclear weapons capability during his presidency. Sanctions would be increased and the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf would be reinforced in order to be a constant reminder of Washington’s deterrent power. However, the Obama administration has done exactly that; the U.S. Navy has a permanent aircraft carrier in Persian Gulf waters, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself admitted that the current sanctions on the Iranian regime have diminished the country’s export potential. On Afghanistan, Romney criticized Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of 2014 as “politically timed,” all the while saying that he would follow the same exact schedule.
Romney’s policy towards Syria (“I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need”) and Egypt (“I will use our influence—including clear conditions on our aid—to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel”) are all worthwhile goals, but he failed to detail the tools he would use to achieve these outcomes. Is Romney willing to deal with the consequences of U.S. cutbacks in foreign aid to Egypt? Is it possible to arm a select group of Syrian rebels, with whom we agree, but prevent the flow of weapons to the extremists that also have entered the fray?
With less than a month to go before Americans go to the polls, Mitt Romney has taken the fight to Obama’s foreign policy, an area where the president is at his strongest. In every case, whether it has been in a speech or an op-ed, Romney has avoided delving into the nuts-and-bolts of how his foreign policy approach would work. He is going to have an opportunity during this week’s debate to clarify how he would go about demonstrating U.S. leadership in a constantly changing world. When American voters go to the polls in November they deserve to know the fine print.
Daniel R. DePetris is an independent researcher and a past contributor to the International Affairs Review.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.