Another story Bret Stephens tells his “wavering voter” is that U.S. favorability around the world will not decline under Romney:
No, America will not once again become the global pariah it supposedly was under George W. Bush if Mr. Romney is elected.
It’s possible that Romney won’t wreck U.S. favorability and relationships with other governments as badly as Bush did during his tenure, but that isn’t saying much. The early signs haven’t been promising. Between his taking gratuitous, ill-informed swipes at European allies and generally ignoring allied governments the rest of the time (except when he wants to use them as props for his campaign), it seems unlikely that there will be many foreign governments eager to work with a Romney administration. At the popular level, many Europeans reportedly have no idea who Romney is, and those that do know tend to dislike him.
A lot of this will ultimately depend on what a Romney administration does. If Romney starts any new wars, that would almost certainly damage relationships with many rising powers. Would Romney bring back torture, as some of his advisers have reportedly suggested? If so, that will strain relationships with allied governments, especially those that are coping with the legacy of Bush-era torture on their territory. European governments aren’t interested in a more antagonistic U.S.-Russian relationship, and an administration that is even more uncritically supportive of everything Israel does is bound to be more unpopular worldwide.
Someone might object that this doesn’t really matter, but this isn’t simply a matter of popularity. High U.S. unfavorability in the Bush era was largely a reaction to the substance of Bush’s policies and the manner in which he carried them out. If an administration has little interest in diplomatic engagement and has little use for multilateral cooperation, its relationships with other states will inevitably suffer. If it tends to dictate terms to other states, that arrogance breeds resentments and tensions that aren’t necessary. If an administration assumes that American and allied interests are identical, it will tend to commit the U.S. to positions that aren’t in America’s interest or drag allies into conflicts that have nothing to do with them. Many states are going to bristle if the U.S. defines its “leadership” role in an anachronistic way that doesn’t take account of the changed international political landscape, and Romney’s understanding of American “leadership” is rooted in just such an outdated view.
It isn’t written anywhere that a Republican administration has to behave this way, but it is how Romney has campaigned so far. He shows every sign that he thinks this is the sort of “leadership” that the world supposedly craves. If elected, he will be in for a very rude shock when he discovers that an added dollop of resolve doesn’t have the effect he expects. One can imagine a Republican administration that values diplomacy as an important tool, exercises restraint when responding to international crises, and tries to improve relations with traditionally difficult or antagonistic states, but it would be an administration with very different foreign policy views from the one Romney’s will almost certainly have. Indeed, it would be the opposite of the Bush “version 2.0” foreign policy that Romney favors.