Obama and Romney not that different on national security, foreign policy

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 29, 2012 


January 9, 2010 - a Predator unmanned drone flies a training mission over Victorville, California.

DON BARTLETTI — Los Angeles Times/MCT

— After a campaign that’s been about jobs, jobs and more jobs, the next president will be faced with a world full of problems that have little to do with improving the American economy. These are issues that often bear a geographic name: Afghanistan, Benghazi, Iran, Syria, Israel, or with out-thinking and overcoming those who seek to harm Americans.

These are the issues for the commander in chief role of the Oval Office, and while they’re often thrust upon a president more than sought, they will go a long way toward determining how history will view a presidency.

The two major party candidates, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, both generally back the same course on many of the major issues. Both would withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, for example, albeit at a slightly different pace. Both hope tough sanctions will force Iran to halt its nuclear program, while both reserve the right to use force as a last resort. Obama even joked at their last debate that Romney’s solutions consist of nothing more than speaking louder when saying the same things.

Romney early in the campaign appeared more hawkish. But as they near Election Day, Romney’s worked to avoid being tarred as trigger happy. “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” he said in the last debate.

They do differ on some key issues. Romney wants a defense buildup, including an increase in ships for the Navy that Obama ridiculed. Romney vows a close alliance with Israel.

Here’s a breakdown of where they stand on some of the major issues of national security and foreign policy. Issues relating to possible defense spending cuts because of the pending sequestration are not included because both candidates seek to avoid implementation of those automatic cuts.



Obama sees slowing the growth of Pentagon spending as part of a greater effort to reduce projected budget deficits. As that slows, and the economy grows, he projects that military spending will drop from more than 4.2 percent of gross domestic product to 2.6 percent of GDP by 2022 .


Romney proposes that military spending should never fall below 4 percent of GDP.

He also proposes building 15 news ships a year for the Navy, with a goal of increasing the total from 286 ships today to 350. That’s more than the existing plan to add nine ships a year to raise the total to 298 ships, and more than the 310 to 316 ships the Navy said it needs to handle its missions.



Obama plans to turn over the lead in combat missions to Afghan security forces by the end of 2013, and to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of 2014. His timeline is the same as has been adopted by NATO and the international community.


Romney wants to complete the transfer of combat missions to Afghan forces and withdraw U.S. combat troops by the end of 2014. He would give the U.S. military more say over the pace of withdrawal.



Obama says economic sanctions are both having an impact and maintaining international support in the drive to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He reserves the right to use force as last resort to stop Iran.


Romney supports sanctions but would strengthen them. He also reserves the right to use force as last resort.



Obama maintains the American relationship with Israel is “rock solid,” pointing to joint military exercises, missile defense support, and the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 as evidence. Obama maintains “the United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security.”


Romney says he would push for even closer relations with Israel.

In a secretly recorded video of a private fundraiser, he cast doubts about the possibilities of a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian question. “The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish,” he said.

He also said, “The United States will reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.”

His official stand is that he “will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”



Obama refers to the rapid changes in North Africa and the Middle East as both challenges and opportunities. During the most recent debate, he noted that in backing the growth of new democracies, he has specific goals: Ensuring support for American counterterrorism efforts, making sure Israel is protected, pushing for the protection of “religious minorities and women” and helping “the economic capabilities” of those nations.


Romney also noted that he focuses on convincing the “Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own.” To do that, he said, he would tie foreign aid to protecting Israeli and American interests, through promoting economic development, improving education, creating gender equity and establishing civil societies. He voiced concern, however, about the results of the first democratic election in Egypt, which saw a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood elected as president.

Matthew Schofield can be reached at mschofield@mcclatchydc.com or followed on twitter @MattSchodcnews

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