Romney on Foreign Policy: Does It Matter?

Tomorrow Mitt Romney will deliver a “major foreign policy address” at VMI. His speech is titled “The Mantle of Leadership.” Today his campaign distributed the following excerpts from the speech, embargoed until midnight. I will reproduce the excerpts in their entirety, and then comment on them:

Of all the leaders who have called Lexington, Virginia their home, none is more distinguished than George Marshall—the Chief of Staff of the Army who became Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, who helped to vanquish fascism and then plan Europe’s rescue from despair. His commitment to peace was born of his direct knowledge of the awful costs and consequences of war.

General Marshall once said, “The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it.” Those words were true in his time—and they still echo in ours.

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The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East—a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself.

The attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the Administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.

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I know the President hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy. We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity. …

… It is time to change course in the Middle East. …

I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf the region—and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination. For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions—not just words—that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated. …

… I will champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of our strategy, both in the Middle East and across the world. The President has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years. I will reverse that failure. I will work with nations around the world that are committed to the principles of free enterprise, expanding existing relationships and establishing new ones.

I will support friends across the Middle East who share our values, but need help defending them and their sovereignty against our common enemies.

In Libya, I will support the Libyan people’s efforts to forge a lasting government that represents all of them, and I will vigorously pursue the terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans.

In Egypt, I will use our influence—including clear conditions on our aid—to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel. And we must persuade our friends and allies to place similar stipulations on their aid.

In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran—rather than sitting on the sidelines. It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.

And in Afghanistan, I will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. President Obama would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decisions in Afghanistan is arguing for endless war. But the route to more war – and to potential attacks here at home – is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11. I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation.

Finally, I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew.

Now, there is little if anything to quarrel with in that speech. By the same token, the casual voter will not see anything in it to sway his or her vote. Its best line–”Hope is not a strategy”–is borrowed, and these excerpts do not clearly differentiate Romney’s foreign policy from Obama’s.

It is odd that foreign policy has been deemed one of Barack Obama’s strengths–maybe his principal one!–in his re-election campaign. Surely that was not something that Obama himself intended. But American voters have low standards when it comes to foreign affairs. They don’t want any new wars, but they also don’t want the U.S. to be humiliated. Those are relatively easy standards to satisfy, and for the most part, Obama has done so.

Still, below the surface some things are obvious. Most voters want the U.S. to be a strong and preferably dominant power. Barack Obama, on the other hand, grew up marinating in the leftist belief that America is too powerful, and needs to be taken down a peg. Those who actually care about American influence in the world will, for the foreseeable future, favor the Republican candidate.

Then there is the matter of Israel and its enemies. The vast majority of American voters are far more supportive of Israel than is President Obama. There isn’t much that Mitt Romney can do to emphasize this divide other than to pledge his own commitment to the alliance with Israel, which he has done repeatedly.

The biggest danger to Obama in foreign policy is the current debacle in Egypt and Libya. The administration has tried to cover up what really happened in Libya, with mixed success. Voters who rely on the New York Times, the Associated Press, etc., may not know what happened there, but most people have more sophisticated sources of information and are generally aware of what a disaster recent events have been for America.

Almost in the form of samizdata, information circulates that confirms the general impression that the Democrats are weak when it comes to foreign policy, while Republicans are advocates of American power. There probably isn’t much that Mitt Romney can do to reinforce that perception, other than to make the kinds of statements that, as the above excerpts indicate, he will articulate tomorrow at VMI. On the surface, they don’t differ much with Obama’s expressed views. But for once, conservatives really are talking in code–code which signals Romney’s determination to defend and extend American power around the world. If voters get that message, foreign policy will be a plus for Romney when voters go to the polls next month.

UPDATE: This Heritage Foundation video makes the case for Obama administration duplicity with regard to the Libya disaster more effectively than Romney probably can:

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