Mitt Romney’s Invisible Foreign Policy

Mitt Romney gave what was billed as a major speech during which he would stake his ground on foreign policy, an issue on which he has made several statements that any intelligent person would find, to say the least, embarrassing. You can read the whole speech here, but good luck finding much substance in it.

The speech is little more than a list of vague and/or patently obvious nostrums, interspersed with meaningless tripe that might sound impressive to people who have no idea what to think on the issues. It’s straight out of the Handy Dandy Republican Talking Points Book, with lots of talk about strength and resolve and little definition of either. He calls for “strong, confident, principled global leadership” and waxing on about “the responsibility of our President to use America’s great power to shape history.” This is verbal cotton candy.

When he gets around to criticizing President Obama, he offers more vagueness:

Across the greater Middle East, as the joy born from the downfall of dictators has given way to the painstaking work of building capable security forces, and growing economies, and developing democratic institutions, the President has failed to offer the tangible support that our partners want and need.

Really? Which partners would those be? Mubarak? Qaddafi? Lots of people on the right have actually criticized the president for not stepping in to help those brutal dictators stay in power. Is that what you would suggest, Mr. Romney? Who are our partners in Egypt right now? And how should we be helping them? This is all very easy to say as a Monday morning quarterback, but faced with a situation with a dozen different groups struggling for power, none of which are entirely in line with what we might want, it becomes a little tougher.

In Iraq, the costly gains made by our troops are being eroded by rising violence, a resurgent Al-Qaeda, the weakening of democracy in Baghdad, and the rising influence of Iran. And yet, America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence. The President tried-and failed-to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains.

No, actually, he didn’t. President Bush signed an agreement requiring that “abrupt” withdrawal — you know, the one that everyone knew was coming two years in advance — and the only way to change that agreement was if the Iraqi government voted to change it, which they had no desire to do. The only other option was to violate the agreement and go back to simply being an occupying power, which would have required another huge influx of new troops to control the country and provoked massive violence against our people there in response. Is that what you would have done, Mr. Romney? Oh, I forgot. You can’t actually say what you would have done because then people might point out that those policies have consequences. Better to just offer empty pablum like this, on Iran:

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 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.

Which is exactly what Obama has done in every instance. ThinkProgress points out four ways in which Romney’s foreign policy is identical to Obama’s, but they only scratch the surface. My former colleague Spencer Ackerman, who knows more about foreign policy than anyone else I know, says that with this speech it’s clear that Romney is running “for Obama’s second term.”

Mitt Romney thinks Barack Obama is a terrible president. When Romney looks at Obama’s foreign policies, he sees a president who projects “passivity” in a dangerous world, as he argues in a big speech on Monday, leaving allies and enemies confused about where America stands. Which makes it curious that the policies Romney outlines in his speech differ, at most, superficially from Obama’s…

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