October 7th, 2011
12:45 PM ET

Dissecting Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech

Michael E. O'Hanlon Editor's Note: Michael O’Hanlon specializes in national security and defense policy and is senior author of the IraqAfghanistan, and Pakistan Index projects. You can read more from him on the Global Public Square.

By Michael O'Hanlon – Special to CNN

Mitt Romney gave a good foreign policy speech at the Citadel in South Carolina today. It was a serious and well-delivered set of remarks and amounts to one more reason to expect that an upcoming showdown between him and Barack Obama could be quite competitive and close! The speech was not too specific on most matters as to be easy to dissect, but a few reactions did occur to me:

- Governor Romney's adamant opposition to defense spending cuts was somewhat surprising. It raises the stakes for him as he proposes how to reduce the deficit through other approaches, as it will be hard enough to get out of our fiscal mess even if every major part of the budget makes some level of proportionate contribution. This position is especially hard to reconcile with the classic GOP stance against any and all tax increases, unless Romney envisions a fundamental overall of the tax code that could increase revenues without raising rates.

- Within the subject of defense, his focus on shipbuilding and missile defense were interesting. The latter is a Reaganesque position that plays well to GOP crowds, though it is worth noting that Obama, even after curbing the missile defense program somewhat, is still spending more on it each year than Reagan did in his day (after adjusting for inflation). The shipbuilding emphasis is somewhat surprising given its specificity ("we should build 15 ships a year instead of 9") but probably pretty smart. Not only will it play well in key naval states with electoral importance like Virginia, but more importantly it addresses the challenges posed by Iran and China and conveys a sense of strength without raising fears that Romney is looking for more nasty ground campaigns like those in Iraq or Afghanistan. Still, it adds to the budget problem.

- Romney's view that Obama is an apologist for the United States strikes me as unfair. I do not see this in the president's speeches or actions, personally, even after studying most of these speeches fairly intently.

- However, Mr. Romney is probably on somewhat stronger ground in suggesting that Obama has struggled to define a confident image of American global leadership. Obama does not favor American decline or multilateralism per se, but he has failed to articulate a clear view of this country's future role in a changing world of numerous new rising powers and that leaves him open to critique.

- More broadly, America's economic travails in the Obama era enormously complicate the current president's task of leading strongly and assertively. This is part of the reason that Romney's narrative about Obama's supposed lack of conviction about the exceptionalism of the United States may resonate. The economy is hardly all Mr. Obama's fault, clearly. But it is an iron and immutable law of American politics that incumbents are saddled with the economic record that occurred on their watch, so again, this part of the Romney message may have some legs.

- Romney's position on Afghanistan - that he would do a major review upon taking office, and not let politics intrude on his decisionmaking - sounds perfectly reasonable at one level. Indeed, it is. But more than anything, it is a smart political move. Romney knows the war is unpopular but also knows it would be imprudent to accelerate the scheduled U.S. troop drawdown there. So he is looking for an approach that allows him not to take any real stand on the matter for now. That reflects sound instincts in one sense, but of course it is a punt in another sense.

- Finally, the idea that it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon is a sure-fire applause line and like his predecessors, Romney has gone back to this conventional wisdom. Surely, no one except some Iranians favor Iran getting the bomb. The question, however, is what to do about it if our diplomatic and sanctions-based efforts fail. Was Romney suggesting that in such an event, he would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities? This is a question about which he may have to be more specific in the 13 months to come. And it may be a statement that he regrets making, someday, if elected president. Time will tell.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael O'Hanlon.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. bontragerfam

    Romney will make a great president, be a fair leader, and put America back on the map as a shining star of freedom and strength. Peace through strength = Romney 2012.

    October 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  2. Michelle G

    Romney is the worst of all the republicans. He is the typical "say anything to get elected" politician who would say the earth is flat if he thought that is what the voters wanted to hear. Please, anyone but Romney.

    October 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply
    • bontragerfam

      Obama says anything too! He said he'd close Guan.Bay, and he did not. He said he'd bring the troops home. He has not.
      A vote against Romney is a vote for Obama's re-election. You don't want that, do you?
      Romney, all the way.

      October 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  3. Alan MacDonald

    Romney is certainly the best qualified and experienced candidate to run on a platform combining renewed PNAC war strategies with global Private Equity Piracy/'asset-stripping' - but this basically amounts to running on the sound-bite and bumper sticker slogan:

    "I want to be your next global Emperor" - which might be very appealing to the 1% elite who currently run this disguised global corporate/financial/militarist Empire which has taken over our country from we 99% by hiding behind the facade of its 'bought and owned' TWO-Party “Vichy” sham of democracy.

    But, no thanks, Mitt. After all, the last nut who so blatantly ran on such an ultra-nationalistic and uber-patriotic campaign promising 'war spoils' and global Empire also had an unusual first name, Adolph!

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine

    October 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Mitt Romney is just one of the GOP's candidates. In a presidential election two things matter – a strong party and/or an excellent candidate. A strong party with brilliant spindoctors can pull the string of a puppet. An excellent candidte can choose his entourage once he's elected. It seems the GOP has none of the two advantages!

      October 8, 2011 at 5:45 am | Reply
    • Tron

















      November 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  4. Onesmallvoice

    After listening to Romney's speech this afternoon, he himself appears to be even a greater threat to this country than Al Qaeda and all the other terrorist organizations ever were. If elected, he will pull this country down to news economic lows as he pours more and more money needlessly into the military and try to bully the rest of the world. This country,like I said before, does not appear to have a very bright future!!!

    October 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply
    • krm1007

      Very well said, Onesmallvoice. After hearing Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech yesterday, only a fool or a right-wing nutjob would vote for this idiot!!!

      October 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Reply
    • Rz

      You're missing the whole point. Private jobs and manufacturing have apparently become dispensable. So the gov can free trade and offshore most anything away, except the military of course. Government policies still protect military manufacturing, go figure. At least Romney is telling part of the truth. He's not just investing in a good thing, he's investing in about the only thing left. Especially if it more or less guarantees his job.

      October 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  5. krm1007

    WE SALUTE YOU, PAKISTAN......The Americans acknowledge the innumerable sacrifices made by Pakistanis in this ongoing war. The Americans appreciate the bullets taken on the chest by the Pakistanis in fighting the enemy. The Americans appreciate the ultimate sacrifices made by Pakistanis in sacrificing their lives while trying to make America and the world safe.

    October 8, 2011 at 8:16 am | Reply
  6. krm1007


    In India, at least 1,370 girls are aborted every day. As a comparison, some 250 Indians die every day in road accidents. Terrorists killed about six people, on an average, every day in 2009. In the last two decades of economic progress, 10 million girls have died before being born.
    More are strangled, slowly starved or simply tossed in the trash in India.

    Indians have killed more human beings (girls particularly) than Al Qaeda and Talibans put together.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:05 am | Reply

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