Charles Krauthammer declares that Romney’s trip abroad was “excellent”:
Without any overt criticism of the current president, Romney set out a foreign policy of radically greater appreciation of and fidelity to American allies.
If we review what Romney said during his trip, it turns out that Romney did no such thing. On the whole, he made no policy statements. He had said he wouldn’t make any policy statements while overseas as a candidate, and for the most part he kept to that pledge. When he did take specific positions in Israel, these amounted to endorsing whatever it was his hosts wanted to hear. In other words, when Romney said anything of substance he engaged in his usual “pro-Israel” pandering, and the rest of the time he offered predictable praise for the virtues of the hosting countries. What Krauthammer describes as a “foreign policy of radically greater appreciation of and fidelity to American allies” was for the most part an extended exercise in the flattery of other nations. Of course, it’s better to praise one’s hosts than gratuitously annoy them as Romney did last week, but we shouldn’t confuse this flattery for a foreign policy that shows greater fidelity to allies. Because Romney’s foreign policy represents a return to the Bush era, we should remember just how poorly the Bush administration managed relations with many allies and clients.
The Bush administration was a great one for stating its strong commitment to other countries in words, but in many cases its policies that involved those countries were ultimately harmful to their interests. Sometimes this involved taking advantage of allies that were willing to support unwise U.S. policies, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the use of torture. Relationships with Britain and Poland, among others, were harmed because these relationships became entirely one-sided and the policies in question proved detrimental to the interests of our allies. The allies provided reliable support, and they effectively received nothing in return. Romney said nothing that suggests he would do things any differently. It would be one thing if the policies in question were defensible or if they served allied interests as well, but they weren’t and they didn’t.
Bush’s record in handling relations with clients wasn’t any better. Bush offered rhetorical support for Georgia, and provided some military aid and training, both of which encouraged the Georgian government in the misguided idea of trying to join NATO and further encouraged Tbilisi to believe that the U.S. would support it if it tried to seize separatist territories by force. Bush’s promises of a close relationship with Georgia proved meaningless, and many of the very policies that the Bush administration pursued to prove its “support” for Georgia, including continued NATO expansion to the east, contributed to the outbreak of the disastrous conflict in 2008 that caused Georgia such extensive damage. The uncritical backing Bush provided to the Olmert government during its military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza helped Israel to badly damage its relationship with Turkey and deepen its international isolation.
These were all the acts of a “friend” and a “supporter” of both countries, but it is clear that both countries would have been better off if they had received a less enthusiastic and uncritical American embrace. Following the lead of a country’s hard-liners and nationalists often doesn’t reflect genuine fidelity to the interests of that country, and the uncritical flatterer can be a much worse friend than a reasonable critic. Romney has no interest in the latter role, and we know only too well that he prefers to play the flatterer. Why U.S. allies and clients should want to be abused by such a false friend is a mystery.