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

      釣魚島問題專家、香港中文大學亞太研究所研究員鄭海麟從釣魚台列嶼的歷史地位切入,直指釣魚島隸屬中國毫無疑義。他指出,中日兩國大量歷史文獻表明,最早發現、命名和使用釣魚台列嶼的是中國人,而不是琉球人或日本人。釣魚島列嶼並不屬於「舊琉球王朝的勢力所及範圍」,該列嶼在明朝便被納入中國海防及行政管制區域。

      一九五一年的《舊金山(三藩市)合約》根本沒有涉及釣魚台列嶼的主權問題。一九五二年美國託管當局將釣魚島列嶼劃入琉球列島地理境界的經緯度內,是極不適當和不合國際法的。因此,日本聲稱擁有該列嶼主權在國際法上不能成立。

      中國大陸學者近年來對釣魚島議題的研究下了很大工夫。清華大學當代國際關係研究院副院長劉江永教授指出,事實證明日本早在甲午戰爭前十年已知釣魚台列嶼屬於中國。

      日外務省當年編撰的《日本外交文書》第十八卷和第二十三卷中,對明治政府竊取釣魚島的決策過程有非常詳實的記載。換言之,釣魚台列嶼是日本乘甲午戰爭之機,未等簽署馬關條約而從中國竊取的。如今,日方稱其與馬關條約,即甲午戰爭無關,根本站不住腳。

      二戰後釣魚島問題懸而未決與美國介入密不可分。劉江永指出,一九七一年美國擅自決定將釣魚島的行政管轄權交給日本政府,遭到全球華人的強烈反對,掀起保釣浪潮,迫使美國迄今迄未承認日本擁有釣魚島的主權,而希望中日雙方和平協商解決。

      然而,二零一零年以來美國政府多次明確表示,釣魚島適用於美日安保條約第五條,「這是造成日本政府在釣魚島問題上有恃無恐採取強硬做法的重要外部因素」。

      事實上,東京法院曾經判定釣魚島屬於台北州。台灣光復前一年,台灣與琉球為釣魚島發生歸屬權之爭,當時該法院將釣魚台列嶼判決為台北州所有,更加證明釣魚島主權屬台灣。

      此外,中國大陸學者、上海社會科學研究院法學研究所副研究員、海洋法研究中心主任金永明,上海國際問題研究院學術委員會副主任、上海市日本學會會長吳寄南等,也發表論文,探索釣魚島的國際地位,力證釣魚島主權屬中華民族。

      台灣師範大學東亞系助理教授林賢參則從戰略意涵分析釣魚島問題的本質。他說,中國大陸追求成為「海洋強國」,企圖掌控西太平洋海域之制海權,會壓縮日本防衛之戰略縱深;政治大學亞太研究所副研究員李瓊莉,也提出國際經驗的比較。

      政大外交系教授趙國材說,釣魚台列嶼問題迄今無解,指出釣魚島問題不論從歷史地位或法律地位探討皆無意義,因為國際政治乃強權政治,關於釣魚島主權誰屬是老大哥美國說了算。

      趙國材又表示,台灣願意依聯合國憲章及國際法和平解決國際爭端的規範,從主權、戰略位置、海洋權益與維護資源等面向,以確保釣魚台列嶼領土主權完整,與日本談判,並保護台灣漁民權益。唯日方無意願與台灣談判主權問題,只願和台灣談判漁權,想透過台灣獲得漁權用來騙取釣魚台列嶼的主權。但保釣出身的總統馬英九並未上當,既要漁權也要主權。

      台灣有人主張拉攏美國介入東海爭端,使日本、中國大陸、台灣、美國形成四方機制,能更有效解決釣魚台列嶼主權問題,並提升台灣之國際地位。趙國材認為,這種做法可能會引狼入室,不見得對台灣有利,因為美日在外交上皆承認北京,與台灣沒有邦交,且釣魚台列嶼附近之海域處於防衛美國本土的第一島鏈上,可能牽動東北亞安全情勢和美日的戰略布局,美國在釣魚台列嶼問題上一向表態中立,骨子裏其實偏袒日本。

      台灣政治大學國際法學研究中心研究員邵漢儀首次全部全文公開日方釣魚島的新史料,掀起高潮。邵的父親邵玉銘當年留美時亦曾參與保釣運動,如今父子兩代同台參與釣魚島會議,傳為佳話。

      日本外務省於一九七一年提出的《我國關於尖閣諸島領有權的基本見解》聲稱﹕「自一八八五年以來,日本政府通過沖繩縣當局等途徑再三在尖閣諸島進行實地調查,慎重確認尖閣諸島不僅為無人島,而且沒有受清朝統治的痕跡。在此基礎上,於一八九五年一月二十一日,在內閣會議上決定在島上建立標樁,以正式列入我國領土之內。」

      為了調查日方說法的真相,邵漢儀曾親往日本查閱相關原件,包括仍未公開的明治時期史料。他從日本外務省外交史料館、防衛省防衛研究所圖書館,以及國立公文書館尋得近四十件原件,首次全部公開。他歷時兩年餘發現明治政府從未派員至釣魚島進行實地調查,所謂「再三」調查純屬捏造。

      韓國外國語大學教授黃載皓認為,今年三月中國發表國防白皮書,確立戰略目標是國家現代化、力主防禦性國防、與他國建立軍事互信,他懷疑中日會爆發大戰,也不認為日本會放棄二戰後的現代化貿然掀起戰端。不過,另一位韓國學者國家安保戰略研究院研究員朴炳光指出,韓日兩國近年提出擴大交流合作關係的「新時代」理念,但對於韓國,獨島攸關經濟及軍事戰略國家利益,不可能讓步。

      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

    ARE INDIANS UBER TERRORISTS OR WHAT????

    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.

    SHAME ON INDIA AND ITS BARBARIC AND MEDIEVAL CULTURE !!!
    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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