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Reviewing “An American Century”

James Joyner has reviewed the Romney campaign’s foreign policy white paper. Joyner labels Romney’s foreign policy as “realist,” which is an indication of how vague and inclusive that term can sometimes be. It defines the U.S. role in terms of opposition to Russian and Chinese interests, resistance to “Bolivarian” governments in Latin America, and hostility to Iran, and it defines U.S. interests very broadly. It echoes a lot of consensus assumptions, and its most unusual elements include a restatement of Romney’s bizarre idea of reorganizing U.S. diplomatic structures along regional/military command lines.

The campaign document is longer and necessarily more detailed than the speech Romney delivered, but as I looked it over I didn’t find many improvements over what we heard yesterday. Romney’s answer on China policy is to expand the U.S. naval presence in the western Pacific, sell many more weapons to Taiwan, and block China’s regional ambitions. This takes things that the Obama administration is already doing and then escalates the most confrontational aspects. Then there was this amusing section:

Our objective is not to build an anti-China coalition. Rather it is to strengthen cooperation among countries with which we share a concern about China’s growing power and increasing assertiveness and with whom we also share an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation and ensuring that disputes over resources are resolved by peaceful means. It is yet another way of closing off China’s option of expanding its influence through coercion.

In other words, the goal is to organize a coalition of states opposed to Chinese claims in order to thwart Chinese goals, but it supposedly isn’t an anti-China coalition. I doubt that this is how the Chinese government will see it. Since one of Romney’s advisers is Aaron Friedberg, author of A Contest for Supremacy, I suppose it isn’t a huge surprise that his campaign frames China policy in mostly antagonistic terms.

The paper discusses the “Arab Spring,” the Middle East, and Israel at some length. One section that stood out was this:

The United States will work intensively with Turkey and Egypt to shore up the now fraying relationships with Israel that have underpinned peace in the Middle East for decades. The United States must forcefully resist the emergence of anti-Israel policies in Turkey and Egypt, and work to make clear that their interests are not served by isolating Israel.

What this means in practice is anyone’s guess. If Romney and his advisers take for granted that Israel has done nothing to contribute to the deterioration of these relationships, as I assume they do, they aren’t going to be very effective in persuading Turkey and Egypt to repair their relations with Israel. After all, the Turkish and Egyptian governments and publics think Israel has contributed significantly to the worsening of relations, and both governments have become increasingly independent of Washington in their dealings with Israel. How would Romney and his team repair the damage when they have little or no respect for the Turkish and Egyptian positions? When they say they will “forcefully resist” such policies, what do they define as “anti-Israel” and what does “forcefully resist” mean? Are they willing to jeopardize U.S. relations with these other states, and if so how far are they willing to take it? I suppose these details are beside the point. The purpose of this section is just to drive home how completely a Romney administration will align itself with Israel no matter what.

On Iran, Romney favors more sanctions. Of course he does. Even though the paper acknowledges that the previous rounds of sanctions have not had the desired effect of changing regime behavior, Romney’s team proposes another “tougher” round. There’s no reason to think that these will alter the Iranian regime’s behavior more than previous sanctions have. The paper also revives an old Romney favorite left over from his previous presidential campaign, which is the idea that Ahmadinejad should be indicted for incitement to genocide. In addition to being based on a popular misconception of what Ahmadinejad was saying, this amounts to nothing more than a diplomatic stunt. The focus on Ahmadinejad in the section on Iran is a good example of the bad habit of personalizing policy toward other states, and in this case the focus is on a relatively powerless figure who is on the way out in two years anyway. Perhaps most annoying of all is the “anything but Obama” rhetorical position that Romney will lend support to the Iranian opposition. This is support that Iranian opposition figures don’t want, and it is “help” that would do them no good, but when it comes to specifics we find that Romney’s proposals for concrete support are extremely limited:

He would work to improve the flow of information to the Iranian population about its own government’s repressive activities.

The paper says Romney will not “remain silent” during Iranian crackdowns, which means that the Romney team is willing to offer rhetorical encouragement and little else. In practical terms, they are not proposing to do very much more than the current administration has done. That is understandable. There is not very much constructive that the U.S. can do, which is what makes the argument that the U.S. should have “done more” in 2009 so silly.

The section on Russia is revealing both for what it says and what it omits. Apart from the false claim of a “recent history of aggressive military action,” there is no reference to Georgia, and absolutely no discussion of revisiting NATO expansion for Georgia or Ukraine. If Romney and his advisers are interested in resuming that ill-judged project, they aren’t saying so explicitly. Curiously, one of the most concrete gains of the “reset” in the form of increased supplies for Afghanistan goes entirely unmentioned. The U.S. has received some aid from Russia on sanctioning Iran, which the paper bizarrely claims never happened, and it recycles the tired and misleading claim that the administration did not extract Russian concessions on reducing tactical nuclear weapons in the context of a strategic arms reduction treaty. Romney’s Russia policy is explicitly an undoing of the “reset,” including a review of implementing the latest arms control treaty:

He will implement a strategy that will seek to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform. He will review the implementation of the New START treaty and other decisions by the Obama administration regarding America’s nuclear posture and arms-control policies to determine whether they serve the best interests and national security of the United States.

So Romney will revert to the same sort of antagonistic approach, complete with lectures on Russian internal affairs, that led to the worst U.S.-Russian relations in a generation. For all of the complaining that the current administration neglected to push for Russian concessions on tactical nuclear weapons, the paper never so much as hints that Romney sees new arms control agreements of any kind as desirable or important. If Romney is the nominee and manages to win, we can expect relations with Russia will become more difficult because that is the way that Romney and his team want them.

Joyner claims that the policy outlined in the paper is not “frightening,” but a better way to describe it is “not as frightening as it could be” given its basically misguided, confrontational approach on a number of issues.

P.S. Joyner also noted that Romney’s proposal for increased ship-building would be “ridiculously expensive.” Ali Gharib points out that this proposal would return the number of ships built each year to Cold War levels.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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