On Monday 8th October, Mitt Romney treated us to another rare display, his fifth, on foreign policy throughout his broader race to the White House. It’s an area the man has clearly not been overly comfortable with and for that matter why should he be? He entirely lacks real experience in the area, never having served in the military and his highest post of public office being the governorship of Massachusetts, well away from the potential for national level select committees where many otherwise white collar American politicians learn a thing or two about the outside world. His career in the private sector could not possibly be said to have granted him any substantive knowledge, beyond perhaps trade and business, aspects not typically associated with the crux of foreign policy.
That is an assessment Romney probably agrees with if we were to take inference from his 22 minute delivery to the Virginia Military Institute. Along with other areas one might generally include in the remit of foreign affairs, such as soft power, diplomacy and international aid, trade and business were given at best a perfunctory coverage. By my count, he accrued one, or a generous two, minutes on anything other than national defence and the military.
There are issues to consider before launching into an attack on this apparently ill-conceived distribution of coverage. The first being that Romney is a Republican vying for national power and of course he is going to appeal to that more hawkish base of his. The second is obviously that he is addressing a room full of cadets and would be silly not to directly appeal to them. These are political factors that should be considered in fairness, as how rarely do the words of a campaign truly match the actions of government? Sadly rarely indeed, and though an unfortunate truth of the matter we wished wasn’t so, is still important in avoiding hypocrisy. Obama has most certainly not carried through with his every promise.
With Romney however, there is a key difference. Many of Obama’s promises were ones that we all wanted him to fulfil, closing Guantanamo Bay not the least. Through Monday’s speech I can quite happily state that I hope, should Romney take office, he forgets nearly every promise he made. Just to warm you up to the notion, would you like to see USN carrier groups in the Eastern Med and Persian Gulf applying overbearing military pressure on a region so fraught with sensitivity and already more tense than a Mormon in a strip club? The answer should be no unless you belong to an apocalyptic cult, and not trying to be glib, I do not refer to the entire Republican Party.
The Romney campaign rather misjudged this speech in my humble opinion. If the aim was to give their candidate a credible aura in this area of governance they would have done better to not start with crude references to General Marshall that, Romney not being a noted student of history, were most likely fed to him with a spoon. Association by reference to grandeur is a weak political tool in the first place, one that I attacked Ed Miliband for recently with his incessant mentioning of Disraeli. Beyond this it simply jarred and for no more a complicated reason than Romney looking about as stiff and awkward as I’ve ever seen him. All the gravitas and charm of the first Presidential debate had vanished and from introduction to conclusion he descended into near boredom, just begging the prompter to run out of text.
Maintaining consciousness though, I listened to the man hammer Obama on almost every global issue of significance, most coming out of the Middle-East. It was an academic approach. Whether it was Syria, Iran, Egypt or Libya, he provided a thin analysis that might be produced by a GCSE mid-week report to build an impression of familiarity with those issues and then blamed practically everything on the incumbent. Evidently Obama’s foreign policy is at the root of all these deeply complex dilemmas, either initiating them or in the least failing to single-handedly solve them with his divine mandate as President of the United States. Romney has the solutions though. Arm the Syrian rebels, hunt down the murderers of Ambassador Stevens, put Iran on notice and keep a watchful, arrogant eye on the Muslim Brotherhood led Egypt. It’s really that simple.
Where not attacking Obama, he promoted such outdated concepts that I think his staffers pulled the speech from 1970’s neo-conservative playbook. And why not?!? Only 3 of 28 NATO nations are committing to 2% GDP defence spending and Putin “casts a long shadow over young democracies in Europe”. America itself must reaffirm its psychotic levels of military spending that already stands at 41% of total global military spending… the impression one is left with is that some in America think the Cold War is still on or rather wish it still was. Romney himself distils this notions by suggesting that America must somehow achieve the unlikely responsibility of leading the world and shaping events without a false sense of pride. It’s an attractive image if you buy it, especially as Obama risks leading the American people into enslavement and destruction.
The entire speech was quite painful really. It screamed a belief in America’s inviolable capacity for interventionism and the moral right to maintain this. This is despite the more commonly held view that the era of superpowers tugging at the strings of their lesser regional allies is over. China, the world’s emerging superpower, is quite determined to avoid even the most stridently acceptable case of interventionism as seen in their handling of the Syrian crisis. The notion of American moral supremacy that Romney seems to hold dear is arguably more disconcerting that his outrageous material suggestions such as arbitrarily building a handful of naval vessels and submarines. What absolutely astounds me is that he doesn’t only attach this morality to military affairs.
In the brief section of the speech that Romney did talk about anything that didn’t implicitly involve lots of guns and ammunition, he loaded the institution of US aid with the most incredible stipulations. Aid would only be granted with the condition of strong oversight with a particular mind to creating free markets in those countries that would bow down to recreating themselves in America’s image. Were it possible, this is a more horrifying proposal than starting World War III in the Middle-East, which a Romney foreign policy loyal to this speech would likely cause.
His is the foreign policy of an American mind of some two decades past, all the more tragically unchanged for the intervening events to this day. His answer to the world’s problems is a sudden explosion of American power and aggression that would somehow cause all global antagonists to run in fear and capitulate to a new era of American supremacy. Did I learn more from my brief A-level studies of the Vietnam War than Romney ever did through being a red-blooded son of Uncle Sam? Almost certainly. That tempestuous disposition is the result of the misinformed belief in power taking precedence over even a basic faith in the lessons of history or a working knowledge of the state of the modern world.
In the stakes of appealing to his base, he succeeded, but where concerned with offering a realistic and nuanced set of ideas that offered any hope of the peaceful world he aspires to, it was a miserable performance. Perhaps his campaign realises the ship has sailed in this area and all he needs to do is wet the appetites of your average NRA card holder and settle the nerves of those right-leaning individuals who were so very concerned he might be moderate. I pray this is so, as almost point for point these are campaign promises that should be consigned to the dustbin.
Team America? Fuck no.