But in addition, he also specifically addressed the threats from the rising military power of China and the desire of Russia’s autocrats to recreate the Soviet empire. Such bold talk will dismay some who think Obama’s belief in engaging these rivals makes sense, but given the utter failure of the administration’s hopes to get those two powers to act sensibly on threats like Iran, Romney’s position makes perfect sense.
Actually, Romney didn’t specifically address these things. Instead, he gestured in the direction of looming threats that he is greatly exaggerating or making up. Romney claims that China is bent on achieving global superpower status, for which he presented and has no evidence. There can’t actually be more than one autocrat per state, or else he isn’t much of an autocrat, but then that is another reason why applying the term autocracy to modern authoritarian states such as Russia is misleading and wrong. As for the idea that Russia is bent on recreating an empire, Soviet or otherwise, Thomas de Waal made a useful observation in a recent op-ed on the need for a new European Ostpolitik:
The issue is not a Russian imperial threat. With the exception of a few sensitive spots, such as Abkhazia and Crimea, Moscow is in long-term retreat from its former colonial space, and is mostly pre-occupied with domestic problems, such as the volatile north Caucasus. Russia had concerns about Nato expansion into Georgia and Ukraine, but that ill-conceived project has now run out of steam.
On the bright side, Romney’s discussion of policy towards Europe and Russia in his speech was so minimal that he never had the opportunity to suggest reviving the ill-conceived project of continued NATO expansion. Romney is the Republican front-runner, he will most likely be the nominee next year, and he has built up the largest foreign policy team of any candidate*. He really ought to be delivering more in his speeches than he has, and he ought to be expected to deliver more. Unfortunately, it is an indication of how low the bar has been set that Romney’s address today can be well-received and treated as a “serious” and “good” speech by people on right and left.
* Granted, it is a team staffed entirely by Bush administration veterans.
Update: Fallows and Ackerman are impressed and a bit dismayed by how Romney said practically nothing about actual policy. If Romney’s goal was to engage in a good deal of hawkish posturing, the speech was a success, but otherwise it fell fall short of what we should expect from the leading presidential candidate of a major party. Once again, I am more than a little amazed that the reputedly wonky, technocratic Romney shows so little interest in policy substance when it comes to these issues. I didn’t get to this in my column, but Ackerman’s view of the region-wide democracy-promoting official is similar to mine:
This is a stupid person’s idea of a smart proposal. Who is our Man Who Moves Entire Regions By The Force Of His Words?
Second Update: James Lindsay comments on what Romney is missing:
Finally, Romney may eventually develop a foreign-policy strategy but he doesn’t have one yet. A good foreign-policy strategy names goals, identifies trends, sets priorities, and identifies means. Romney’s speech today did none of that. It especially skirted the question of where the world is going and how that affects U.S. interests and opportunities.