Monday, October 8, 2012

Mitt Romney's Flawed Global Vision

Twitter is atwitter (sorry) and on-line sources alight with coverage and commentary on Mitt Romney's foreign-policy speech today at VMI.  Predictably, it's long on sermonizing, short on specifics, and replete with references to US leadership and domination and the continuation of the "American century."  The WaPo editors have already weighed in with their concern that the speech failed to outline a more "robust" policy in the Middle East - this, of course, obviously reflecting the views of Jackson Diehl, who's been wringing his hands for months over Obama's reluctance to jump into the Syrian fray with both feet.

I have to recommend most heartily Fred Kaplan's take (at Slate), where he characterizes Romney's speech as the most dishonest of what's now a long string of the Mittster's mendacious public statements.  As have many others (including Paul Pillar and, very pungently, Maureen Dowd), Kaplan reminds us that Romney's foreign-policy mentors include some of the same neocon "visionaries" who gave us the strategic and humanitarian debacle of George Bush's Mesopotamian adventure.  But perhaps most important, Kaplan highlights both Romney's ineptitude overseas (including his insults to the Brits in London and to the Palestinians for their deficient "culture") and the sense that he's stuck in a Cold War time-warp:

Romney proclaimed, “The 21st century can and must be an American century.” This is where he and his advisers, many of them Bush-Cheney neo-cons, share a dangerous assumption about the world. They seem to believe that the United States can wield the same force and influence it did during the Cold War, if only a strong president sat in the White House again. Yet the rise of American power after World War II was facilitated by the geopolitics of the day: a bipolar international system, a faceoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, with much of the rest of the world choosing, or falling into, one camp or the other. When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union imploded, this international system collapsed as well—and, as yet, nothing has taken its place. Power has dispersed as power-centers have weakened.

As he has on other occasions, Romney asserted that a president must “use America’s great power to shape history,” not to let events shape America. But the fact is there are no superpowers in today’s world; no country has as much power to shape history—or as little immunity to the influences of others—as America did in the Cold War era. To exercise true leadership, a president must come to grips with the limits of his or her power. This has nothing to do with notions of “American decline.” It has to do with the shattering of the Cold War world.

What seems ever more frighteningly evident to me is that Romney really has not been paying attention to how geopolitics has changed and become more complex over the last decade or so, and how America has run up against (or run aground on) the limits of what its military can do and what the nation's economy can afford to undertake.  Admittedly, he's playing to voters by trying to cast himself as the "can-do" entrepreneur / potential president, versus Obama as the professorial, cerebral, consider-all-the-angles ditherer.  (It kind of hearkens back to the old, absurd bromide: Those who can, do.  Those who can't, teach.")

But I've heard nothing, either in today's speech or in anything else Romney has said, to assure me that he has any depth of understanding of the scope and complexity of the US's relations with the rest of the world.  His most basic belief seems to be: America - must - dominate - period.  With the debacle in Iraq, and at the start of the 12th year of America's longest war (and quite possibily its least successful one), it ought to be clear that that horse has been rode hard, put down wet, and is shivering in its stall. 

Everything beyond demanding US global domination seems, for Romney, simpldetails.  But a leader needs to demonstrate some mastery of those details.  From what I've heard so far, the extent of Romney's actual working knowledge of the details of international affairs could fit easily on a 3 x 5 index card.



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