Romney foreign policy: Some things different, some the same

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 1, 2012 

— In some areas, he’d be different from President Barack Obama. In others, even when his fiery rhetoric suggests a dramatic change, Mitt Romney actually would act much like Obama.

The subject is national defense and foreign policy, key areas of U.S. government largely overshadowed in a presidential campaign focused overwhelmingly on a struggling economy at home. Now, the gaffes and missteps of his recent overseas trip aside, Romney has laid out the most detailed look to date at what a President Romney would do to keep the United States safe and help it prosper abroad, how he would protect allies and stand up to foes.

He’d take a harder line against Russia. He’d press China on trade. He’d add 100,000 U.S. troops and build more ships for the Navy. He’d deploy and maintain two aircraft carrier groups in waters near Iran to signal U.S. resolve. He’d arm Syrian rebels who are friendly to the U.S.

But Romney’s policies would dovetail with Obama’s in some major ways. He’d give the military more control over the pace of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but he’d keep Obama’s pledge to get U.S. troops out by the end of 2014. He’d signal more toughness toward Iran by sending more Navy ships and seeking the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he’d follow the same broad approach to Iran – sanctions backed by the possibility of military force.

To Simon Serfaty, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan German Marshall Fund of the United States, Romney’s approach suggests a return to the neoconservative philosophy of President George W. Bush’s administration, particularly on Israel.

But others noted that despite Romney’s language of bold changes, the practical effect on policy is not likely to change radically, at least initially, from that of the Obama administration. “Once you’re in the White House you’re captured by the DNI (Director of National Intelligence), Homeland Security, the entire bureaucracy,” said Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Region by region, here’s a look at Romney’s policies as detailed over the last week from a major speech in Nevada through a six-day trek to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland:

MIDDLE EAST

In a significant shift, Romney would be less inclined to negotiate with the Palestinians, Syria, Iran, or any other nation or interest in the region that might pose a threat to Israel.

“He (Romney) doesn’t see the major players (in the Middle East) the way Obama does,” Serfaty said. “There are the good guys and the bad guys.”

While advocating and supporting people-driven regime change within Iran, Romney would also make clear that his administration would “employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course,” said Dan Senor, a former Bush administration official in Iraq. One pressure point Romney is promising: the deployment in his first 100 days of aircraft carrier task forces to the Eastern Mediterranean and to the Persian Gulf region simultaneously.

“In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. Gov. Romney recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it,” Senor said.

Obama has not ruled out a military option against Iran, but he has also said there is too much “loose talk” about potential warfare.

Romney also would try to make Ahmadinejad more of a political pariah by seeking his indictment for genocide under the Genocide Convention.

On Syria, Romney, like Obama, urges the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Unlike Obama, he supports working with U.S. partners to identify, organize and arm opposition groups whose interests coincide with the United States. That would rule out arming rebel groups that include terrorists from al Qaida in Iraq, which has infiltrated the rebel movement.

RUSSIA

The greatest contrast between Romney and Obama may involve Russia.

“I can only guess what Vladimir Putin makes of the Obama administration,” Romney said in Reno. “He regained the Russian presidency in a corrupt election, and for that he got a congratulatory call from the Oval Office.”

Obama has tried to “reset” the relationship and had banked on former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to improve bilateral relations. But Putin won back the presidency in March, and Obama in June was unsuccessful in convincing him to help push Assad from power in Syria. Russia sees Syria as its strongest Middle East ally.

Romney also notes that Obama reversed Bush’s decision to base a missile-shield defense system partly in Poland, which was seen as a goodwill gesture toward Russia. “If that gesture was designed to inspire goodwill from Russia,” Romney said, “it clearly missed the mark.”

Romney is more willing to criticize Russia, telling a Warsaw audience Tuesday that its neighbor’s “once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered.” He said he would review the implementation of the START nuclear arms treaty, apparently raising the possibility that he might refuse to continue acting on it. He also said he would “confront the Russian government over its authoritarian practices” and would provide stronger support for its neighbors like Poland.

Romney offers a new and needed direction, said Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, an international studies expert at Warsaw’s Vistula University.

“The majority of Polish people love (former President Ronald) Reagan and missile defense. All we’ve heard from Obama are words,” he said.

But Romney is not about to re-establish Cold War-style diplomacy, said James Carafano, a foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. He called the Romney-Obama difference “a classic realist vs. structuralist approach.”

AFGHANISTAN

There was little talk about the war-torn nation during Romney’s journey abroad, but he has in the past branded as “naive” the publicly released timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The former Massachusetts governor concurs with Obama’s timetable but stresses that the decision to withdraw troops would be assessed by U.S. military commanders and conditions on the ground.

CHINA

Romney vowed to issue an executive order on his first day in office ordering the State Department to list China as a currency manipulator and to direct the Commerce Department to assess countervailing duties on Chinese imports if Beijing fails to float its currency. U.S. business and many lawmakers believe that China keeps a competitive edge over American manufacturers and businesses by keeping the yuan weak to boost exports

Romney also proposes a “Reagan Economic Zone” in Asia that would promote free trade and “draw in an expanding circle of nations seeking greater access to other markets.”

Allowing China the chance to participate in the zone would give that nation “significant incentives to end its abusive commercial practices,” Romney’s campaign said. “The zone will also knit together the entire region, discourage imbalanced bilateral trade relations between China and its neighbors, limit China’s ability to coerce its neighbors, and ultimately will encourage China to participate in free trade on fair terms.”

Email: dlightman@mcclatchydc.com; wdouglas@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lightmandavid

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