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The Romney “Vision” on Foreign Policy: Seeing Connections That Don’t Exist

He exaggerates the differences between Obama and Romney on foreign policy, but Henry Nau makes a comment that deserves a little more discussion:

The foreign policies of Obama and Romney, or what is now the loyal opposition, could not be wider apart. Obama’s foreign policy is inordinately piecemeal, even picayune. It lacks a vision that draws connections between specific issues, such as terrorism, and the broader American interest to protect and promote freedom [bold mine-DL]. The loyal opposition, by contrast, connects the dots between terrorism and authoritarian challenges to American and global freedom.

There is a real difference here in that the “vision” that Nau describes is a mish-mash of Bush-era ideas that didn’t make sense ten years ago and still don’t today. Obama didn’t ever fully subscribe to these views, and he made a point of moving away from the folly of the “freedom agenda” at the beginning of his first term. Is there a connection between issues of terrorism and “protecting and promoting freedom”? No, there isn’t. What connections are there between terrorism and “authoritarian challenges to American and global freedom”? There might be some extremely tenuous connection somewhere, but the truth is that these issues (assuming we can treat the entire phenomenon of terrorism as a single “issue”) are not closely connected. Are there authoritarian challenges to American freedom? If so, they can only come from Americans, since there is no foreign power today capable of restricting that freedom.

Linking these things together was a clumsy, arbitrary move by the Bush administration that was eager to push its “freedom agenda” in tandem with waging the “war on terror” as if one had much to do with the other. One of the major flaws of the foreign policy of the Bush administration and the views of his supporters was the tendency to conflate and link things that had no connection. Advocates for invading Iraq did this most famously when they promoted spurious claims of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The habit of linking unrelated things was a common error often informed by the bad habit of imagining that “values” and interests could be advanced together without trade-offs. Insofar as Romney represented a return to these false assumptions, Americans and other nations around the world were fortunate that he lost the election. The “vision” that Nau attributes to Romney is a fantasy that distorts understanding of the issues that it forces together.

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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