Mitt Romney officially announced his presidential candidacy today. Foreign policy was not a major theme of the announcement, and perhaps Romney now understands that he does best on this subject when he sticks to generalities and cliches. Looking at his campaign website, I checked the foreign policy part of its issues section to see how Romney is presenting his positions. Not surprisingly, those positions are a mish-mash of the unremarkable and the terrible. Probably Romney’s worst idea is his first one. He starts off making a general appeal for the importance of American soft power, which is fine as far as it goes, and then offers his new idea. That is where things go awry:
Our diplomatic and assistance efforts, however, are hampered by a complicated foreign policy bureaucracy that divides authority across agencies. Mitt Romney will place all diplomatic authority in a given region under the charge of one envoy [bold mine-DL]. This will ensure accountability and effective, unified strategies.
This was one of the bad ideas Romney proposed in No Apology. Spencer Ackerman summed up the problem with this idea when he reviewed the book last year:
The concept of diplomacy is completely foreign to Romney. He dismisses the State Department as “assistant secretaries and… bureaucrats” and proposes designating regional relations to “one individual” who would become a “presidential envoy or the ambassador from CENTCOM or any of the other regional military commands.” Such an individual would “encourage people and politicians to adopt and abide by the principles of liberal democracy,” something that “would be ideal if other allied nations created similar regional positions, and if we coordinated our efforts with theirs.” That’s it for diplomacy, and he doesn’t have an agenda for global development. Why the world will simply do what America says simply because America says it is something Romney never bothers to consider. High school students at model U.N. conferences have proposed less ludicrous ideas.
I wasn’t expecting Romney to abandon this idea entirely, but it is odd that he makes it into one of the three main sections of his foreign policy page. What about the other two? The second set of proposals is filled with boilerplate calls for more military spending and modernization, plus a call for an increase in the number of soldiers. Almost everything in this section seems misguided to me, but Romney isn’t trying to get my vote anyway. It’s in the third section where Romney truly outdoes himself:
Fast-track NATO admission for our allies
Bolster our support for Israel, which has always been and will continue to be our strongest ally in the Middle East.
Building on NATO, establish a global military alliance of democracies dedicated to ensuring security and protecting freedom.
Refrain from criticizing allies publicly and without consultation.
NATO doesn’t need to expand any more, and those few countries that might still be considered as prospective members are either ill-suited to the alliance or don’t want to join. Indeed, Ukraine’s government has passed legislation forbidding it from joining any military alliance. Georgia may continue to aspire to NATO membership, but that is never going to happen. Which allies does Romney mean here? Another round of expansion is highly unlikely, and an attempt to make the process of bringing in new members even faster is not going to win over European allies that don’t want to bring in any more ex-Soviet states.
As for bolstering support for Israel, how is it possible to bolster it more than it already is? Presumably, this is related to the fourth point concerning criticism of allies, which means that a Romney administration would be even more reflexively supportive of Israel and publicly uncritical of all allies no matter what. It appears that Romney is taking hawkish support for allies to a new extreme. The global “alliance of democracies” is a revival of the “global NATO” concept that has gone precisely nowhere for a reason: many of the largest and most powerful democracies around the world want no part of it. Non-Western democracies don’t share U.S. and European priorities, and they are going to take very different views about what “ensuring security and protecting freedom” will involve. In a post-Libya world, there is even less appetite for this sort of armed democratic posse.
That’s it. As of right now, that is the whole of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy as a presidential candidate. Aside from passing mentions of “three hot wars, looming threats, and a military mission spectrum that now includes humanitarian relief,” Romney has essentially nothing to say about the vast majority of foreign policy issues. Granting that this is just a campaign website and not a policy essay, this still seems badly lacking.