Romney vs Obama: Why Mitt Has the Edge on Foreign Policy


The thesis of Mitt Romney's nomination acceptance speech can be summed up in one line: "America needs jobs. Lots of jobs." 

In a speech that enumerated how the Republican Party would help individual families obtain financial security through responsible fiscal policy, Romney made only a brief mention of foreign policy and national security. Romney's foreign policy references featured three key promises: 1) He will support America's allies (like Israel); 2) He would deal with our rivals more harshly; 3) And he will halt military spending cuts.

The foreign policy segment of Romney's speech was similar to his Wednesday address to the American Legion in Indianapolis. There, too, he cast national defense and budgetary concerns as reciprocal policies. According to Romney, the protection of the country is central to future prosperity, and economic success, in turn, will help benefit our vetrans by providing them jobs via the free market. Romney is quick to draw a protective circle around national defense. This stance reinforces Paul Ryan's promise to quickly pass a budget that reverses millinos of dollars of defense spending cuts which will automatically occur in 2013. 

In a race that is almost exclusively concerned with economic matters, the key challenge Republicans face is explaining to the American people why, in belt-tightening years, they still need to spend money on foreign affairs. The public apathy regarding overseas concerns is reflected in a recent Gallup poll which found that half of the public wants the government to accelerate removal of troops from Afghanistan. An additional 24 percent want to keep to the 2014 withdrawal timetable. The key challenge for the Republican campaign will be persuading the people that foregin policy is important to them.

And that's where the discussion of allies and threats comes in. Romney promised to be harsher with Cuba, Russia, and Iran, and more defensive of Israel and the Czech Republic. Romney was probably wise to avoid specifics, especially in the case of Iran. While the internatational community has pursued the conventional wisdom dictating sanctions against Iran, that country seems determined to throw all of its efforts into a viable nuclear program. There has been undeniable tension between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on what ought to be done about Iran. Israel has defined a clear "red line" over which Iranian nuclear efforts will not be able to progress without provoking an attack from their neighbor. The Obama administration is reluctant to concede any imminent possibility of such an attack, asserting that there is still "time and space" for diplomacy and other punative measures. No one disputes that Iran is a problem that is likely to become the foreign policy issue within the next few years. But does Romney's vow to support the nation's allies mean that he will concede to Israel's plans for Iran? We will have to elect him to find out.

In the foreign policy segment of the speech, one thought stood out. Romeny claimed a foreign policy vision "of Truman and Reagan," one which emphasizes the primary value of the USA as a liberal democratic influence in the world. This sounds promising of a President who recognizes the value of choosing international friends based upon shared political beliefs and goals, rather than upon temporary expediency. 

If Romney can combine a high view of America's political worth in the global arena of ideas with his shrewd business acumen, we will have a foreign policy President to be reckoned with.