Romney’s Realist Foreign Policy

My latest for The Atlantic, "Romney's Realist Foreign Policy Is a Lot Like Obama's," has been posted.

My latest for The Atlantic, “Romney’s Realist Foreign Policy Is a Lot Like Obama’s,” has been posted.

It’s ridiculously long, looking at the key points of a 27-page white paper, and therefore defies excerpting. The headline actually does an excellent job of capturing my conclusion:

Aside from the standard point scoring that goes along with a campaign to oust a sitting president, it’s remarkable how much continuity there is between Romney’s vision and Obama’s — which itself isn’t all that different from that which George W. Bush campaigned on in 2000 and governed by starting in 2006 or so. There’s some shibboleths uttered for the crowd to signal that he’s one of them but this is fundamentally a realist foreign policy vision couched in a lot of rhetoric about values.

Like Romney himself, it’s not particularly exciting. Nor, thankfully, is it frightening.

Many if not most foreign policy wonks will focus too much on the shibboleths. There’s quite a bit of silliness and cheap shots at the Obama administration. But, as I note in the piece, we have to read it with an understanding that “this is fundamentally a campaign document rather than a governing platform.” If one reads it with that in mind, there is a lot of sanity in the document–signals that Romney is not a neoconservative ideologue hell bent on invading every last country on the planet to promote democracy and American Greatness.

I point, for example, to this paragraph:

The United States will apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict. In defending America’s national interest in a world of danger, the United States should always retain a powerful military capacity to defend itself and its allies. Resort to force is always the least desirable option, the costliest in resources and human life. A Romney administration will therefore employ all the tools of statecraft to shape the outcome of threatening situations before they demand military action. Though the use of armed force will never be off the table when the safety of America is at stake, a President Romney will take a comprehensive approach to America’s security challenges. The tools of “hard” and “soft” power must work together to be effective. They are complements not substitutes for one another.

This is at once incredibly banal and potentially a breath of fresh air. The buzz words “soft power,” “all the tools of statecraft,” and “comprehensive approach” amount to a coded signal that the days of treating military power as the solution to everything are behind us. Of course, having Eliot Cohen, a signatory to the Project for a New American Century declaration that founded the modern neoconservative movement, write your foreword sends the opposite signal.

This is just a roll-out; one expects Romney’s foreign policy vision to evolve somewhat as we get to the point in the campaign where we really start talking about the topic. But, unlike another roll-out four years ago (see “Rudy Giuliani’s Dangerously Stupid Foreign Policy Vision“) I’m mostly pleased.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Published Elsewhere, US Politics, World Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Catfish says:

    We need to get the troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. If Pakistan and Iran start anything, a dozen B 52’s can quickly straighten them out. End foreign aid. We need the money, quit sending it to a bunch of corrupt countries. Look over any trade deals and cancel anything that is unfair to our industries.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    The paper is in line with policies every president since Truman has pursued.

    1). Only the United States has the vision and wisdom to lead the world.

    2). History can be managed.

    3). It is the responsibility of the United States to manage that history.

    The same megalomaniacal thinking continues unabated.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    In defending America’s national interest in a world of danger, the United States should always retain a powerful military capacity to defend itself and its allies.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    It is too late, we should have listened.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    His list of advisors is 2 pages long….and they came up with nothing fresh…not even the strawmen and the lies.
    The so-called republicans hate Obama so much they are going to try to elect someone just like him…only white. Hmmmm

  5. michael reynolds says:

    We’re the status quo superpower. We make the status quo superpower moves. Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Hey Norm:
    It is rather wonderful, isn’t it? There’s very little distance between Obama and Romney. The GOP keeps flailing, looking for someone they can love, but they keep coming back to a paler shade of Barack.

  7. steve says:

    1) I was a lot more concerned about the foreword than you appear to be. Cohen says we should seek new allies. He, meaning neocons in general, advocates for the primacy of just one at the expense of all others. Neocons seem unable to let go of Russia as the superpower enemy. Unable to recognize it is a regional power with nukes and limited ability to invade anyone anymore.

    2) Should I just discount the following?

    “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will.”

    You seem inclined to dismiss this as just a declaration of our past intent and behavior. I think this is more of a declaration to maintain hegemony, which is not in our best interests. There is a huge difference between doing what is needed to maintain our financial interests vis a vis free trade, and needing to participate or dictate (sounds more like the aim here) of every international conflict.

    3) You see Realist in this speech. I see a mixture of Realist and Neocon. Giving Cohen pride of place worries me. As I recall, you could have read Bush as Realist also, but look at whom he chose to staff with. I am afraid that we have a Wolfowitz in sheep’s clothing here.

    Steve

  8. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: You may recall that I wrote a piece for The National Interest about six months into Obama’s term saying that his foreign policy was Bush’s Third Term. My argument was that Bush corrected somewhere around 2005-2006 and the Wolfowitzes and Rumsfelds were replaced by the Rices and Gateses. That is, a return to the centrist bipartisan mainstream. My strong sense is that Romney would continue that.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @steve: I think it’s a matter of emphasis. The Kissingers, Scowcrofts, and Brzezinskis see Russia–rightly I think–as a regional nuisance that needs to be contained and encouraged into the community of nations. That’s different than seeing USSR 2.0 on the horizon. Putin would love that but the capability isn’t there.

  10. WR says:

    Given Romney’s history, shouldn’t we withhold judgment until next week when he issues his second white paper, which will repudiate everything he said in this one?

  11. James Joyner says:

    @WR: That was pretty much my instant response when asked about his speech on Fox Thursday morning. There’s no doubt a lot of positioning going on here.

  12. mannning says:

    One aspect I hope Romney does not emulate from Obama is the rude, dismissive, and uncalled for behavior towards friends and allies. While his policies may be nicely centrist and heavily biased towards talk and not war, he does need to repair the damage done by a club-footed Obama to our long-term relationships with a string of nations headed by the UK and Israel.

  13. WR says:

    @mannning: The notion that Obama has to bend down and kiss the ring of the fanatical right-wing Israeli government — at the same time we shovel money at them — just shows how little the right cares about US sovereignity when compared with the joys of bashing a Democratic president.

    As for offending the UK, that’s a fantasy concocted by Fox News. (Oh, noes, he sent back a bust! He gave a lousy present!) The UK economy is being destroyed by a cult of austerity worshippers, the middle and lower classes are ready to riot, and the social contract is being dissolved. If anyone in the government there has time to worry about whether or not Obama is nice enough to them, they should be immediately fired and prevented from ever holding office again.

  14. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    We can also safely say that he will continue the woeful lack of financial realism we have seen so far by all administrations, essentially selling unicorns and rainbows to the masses. To whit, Romney will:

    […] reduce taxes,spending, regulation, and government programs.

    while at the same time:

    keep faith with the men and women who defend us just as he will ensure that our military capabilities are matched to the interests we need to protect.He will put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year. He will also modernize and replace the aging inventories of the AirForce, Army, and Marines, and selectively strengthen our force structure. And he will fully commit to a robust, multi-layered national ballistic-missile defense system to deter and defend againstnuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies.

    It is quite obvious to all right-thinking people that shrinking revenues and increasing the military budget can only lead to:

    robust growth, coupled with spending cuts andfiscal discipline, will also bring the federal budget deficit under control.

    Tadaa!

  15. steve says:

    “One aspect I hope Romney does not emulate from Obama is the rude, dismissive, and uncalled for behavior towards friends and allies. ”

    Which would be what? He returned a bust to the UK. Only the Murdoch owned papers cared. He really should have told Bibi to F*ck off. I will agree that he was weak in dealing with him. Israel is a dependent, not an especially useful ally.

    Steve

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    A “realistic” foreign policy would be one that recognizes we can’t afford to be the world policeman anymore and the only nation building we should be doing is at home.

  17. mannning says:

    If you apologize for the uncouth behavior of Obama, you must be tarred with the same brush. Maintaining the diplomatic niceties, and not going outside the protocols is the mark of statesmanlike behavior. I feel certain that Romney would follow the precedents and perform as a gentleman-president should, not as an arrogant and conceited boob too full of himself to conform. I am even more confident that Romney would not go around bowing and scraping to barely civil heads of state, and adopting a posture of supplication.

    Of course, Romney is not from a Muslim heritage, and would not feel the need to plead with them in a show of weakness, and thereby becoming a laughingstock to many of the Islamic leaders.

    What the UK citizenry is doing and what their government is doing in their own nation is totally irrelevant, and should not influence diplomatic meetings of heads of state, unless, of course, you are an untutored and unruly child feeling the need to stomp your feet and make faces.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    Of course, Romney is not from a Muslim heritage, and would not feel the need to plead with them in a show of weakness, and thereby becoming a laughingstock to many of the Islamic leaders.

    When all else fails, fall back on “The Other” card…you have the nerve to criticize supposed “uncouth behavior” while engaging in disingenuous bigotry…

  19. mannning says:

    So the truth hurts you? The man has been uncouth. Defenders of that behavior are much worse.

  20. mannning says:

    Oh, I forgot, I guess we are not supposed to recognize his origins when assessing his behavior.

  21. mannning says:

    Nature and nurture are both telling.

  22. steve says:

    “If you apologize for the uncouth behavior of Obama, you must be tarred with the same brush”

    Nope. I pay attention to what actually happens. You repeat talking points. No serious writer on foreign policy makes these points. Ask James.

    Steve

  23. Robert C. says:

    @mannning:

    You got it backwards..its Israel’s policies that damage the US.

    RC

  24. An Interested Party says:

    The man has been uncouth.

    Compared to whom? The man who was president before him? Or many of the others who came before him? As Steve mentions, it is far better to critique what actually happens rather than the usual talking points you spout…

    Oh, I forgot, I guess we are not supposed to recognize his origins when assessing his behavior.

    Actually, it would be helpful if any kind of real, actual link could be made between his behavior and his father’s religious faith…

  25. sam says:

    @mannning:

    Of course, Romney is not from a Muslim heritage, and would not feel the need to plead with them in a show of weakness, and thereby becoming a laughingstock to many of the Islamic leaders.

    Jesus, manning, couldn’t resist the impulse to show your ass in public, huh? You’re just pathetic some times.

  26. Ben Wolf says:

    Mannnnnnnnnning is one of those for whom skin color and who one’s daddy is will always be disqualifying factors. He’ll be pushing his “Whites Unite, Send Brownies Into Flight” recipe for permanent global apartheid until he’s carted off to the Shady Pines Confederate Retirement Fortress. I’m sure he’ll derive some pleasure from whacking the African-American and Hispanic orderlies with his walker while shouting about Mohammedans or something.

  27. mannning says:

    Being raised for the first 7 years, if not more, in a specific religion, such as Catholicism, Protestantism or Islam, etc., and in a home and explosive church environment, and a stressful work environment and with radical associates for most of one’s adult life that has a very peculiar and quite strange, contrary and controversal value system to inculcate over decades, does place a set of biases in the individual’s thinking, whether open or hidden, and one that the person may fight all the rest of his life, or accept wholeheartedly. Such biases show up now and then in overt and sometimes uncouth behavior. The cat comes out of the bag. The mask is dropped, however briefly!

    Of course, Romney, as a Mormon among other differences, has had a significantly different life trajectory, which makes the contrast quite evident.

  28. mannning says:

    Perhaps some will note that I have not ever introduced skin color into this discussion. It is irrelevant in itself. But then, others seize on that aspect as a club to silence critiques, when it simply isn’t of any concern. Note the rather extreme biases of Mr. Wolf above in another direction, which is disgusting.

  29. Ben Wolf says:

    Being raised for the first 7 years . . . does place a set of biases in the individual’s thinking

    And there we have it: you are what you were born into. Nothing you learn and nothing you come to understand will ever change what you were born into, according to Manly-Mannnnnning. People will always be defined by others and have no control over their development, nor should they be judged for what they have made of their lives. They should only be judged for who their daddy was, and it is useless to even give someone from an undesireable background a chance. People belong where they are born and should just accept it.

    Manly-Mannnnning: Defender of Hierarchy

    Manly-Mannnnning: Protector of Authoritarianism

    Manly-Mannnnning: Promoter of Inherited Privilege

    Manly-Mannnnning: Someone You Wouldn’t Want Babysitting

  30. mannning says:

    Cherry-pickers suck! Read: “…does place a set of biases in the individual’s thinking, whether open or hidden, and one that the person may fight all the rest of his life, or accept wholeheartedly.” In other words, the choice is there to accept or surmount the biases.

    Such ugliness and evil distortion, however, seems to last a lifetime in the world of Wolves. No surmounting there!

  31. mannning says:

    There seems to be an emotional desire to draw a curtain around the early life of Obama, as if none of the influences he experienced then matter at all. That is contrary to fact; early life influences do matter, and must be dealt with one way or another. If the teachings of Muhammad as documented in the Koran, Haddith, and Shariah were the fodder of several years of learning, and they were in Indonesia, then quite a legacy of ideas pertaining to Islam, including, among others, jihad, hate and contempt for the infidel, special hate for Jews, and the right order of the Muslim life, must have been pounded into his head, and thus had to be consciously examined and eradicated— or not.

    Drawing from personal experience, I can still recite many of the founding creeds, prayers, commandments, psalms and dogma of the Episcopal religion from my early, pre-teen teachings, and they do influence me to this day. So I feel it quite reasonable that this is true for Obama, too, regarding Islam.

    Who knows what negative residues of Muslim thought, from an American perspective, lurk still in the mind of Obama and influence his directions? The only outward signs of this problem are in his controversal, off-target speeches to Muslims and his shoddy, even uncouth, treatment of Israel and Bibi, and several hiccups with the British, which, in my opinion of course, were decidedly not what an American President should have done.

  32. An Interested Party says:

    …his shoddy, even uncouth, treatment of Israel and Bibi…

    Yes, of course, because anything less than being a bitch for the Likudniks is considered to be “disrespectful” towards Israel…who could of guessed that the appropriate relationship between the United States and Israel was for the latter to lead the former around by a leash…

  33. mannning says:

    Let me see, who is so antisemetic that their hatred of Jews tops all rational thought? Who would have it in for Bibi? Who would jump at the least hint of appreciation of an ally? Who would twist history to fit their need for justification of their acts and their desires to throw the Israeli nation into the sea? Who would support the launching of rockets at random into Israel, killing innocent civilians? Who would want Obama to support the Palestinians, and disrespect the Israelis?

    Tell me, AIP, who thinks this way? You? We know that Palestinians do. We know that many Muslims do. Do you fit in here?
    ,

  34. An Interested Party says:

    Oh please, get real…spare me your foolish blanket statements in a feeble attempt to change the subject and try to smear me with the anti-Semitic brush…it is hardly anti-Semitism to not kowtow to the Likudnik party line…

  35. mannning says:

    Yes, it is.

  36. mannning says:

    You are an anti semite.

  37. Rob in CT says:

    it is hardly anti-Semitism to not kowtow to the Likudnik party line…

    Yes, it is.

    This is what passes for thought on the Right nowadays. It’s really depressing.

    The “uncouth” charge is horseshit. The prior Pres, Mr. (faux) Texan Cowboy, was all about pissing on allies. That was cool, though, and when there was a dispute it was clearly the ally’s fault, not ours (see: France, on Iraq). Now if there is disagreement, it’s clearly OUR fault, not the ally’s. I wonder why that is? Oh, right, because there is a Dem in the WH. The Churchill bust thing is really incredible. THAT”s what you’ve got? It’s nothing. The Brits don’t seem to care.

    Obama attempted to reign in Israel’s most egregious and self-destructive policy: settlement expansion. The last US President to actually try that was, if I recall correctly, Bush the Elder. He too failed. The Administration has repeatedly re-affirmed our support of Israel and continues to run cover for Israel at the UN, in keeping with long-standing policy.

  38. An Interested Party says:

    You are an anti semite.

    Oh, I’m horribly stung by your brutal appraisal…what’s next, you’ll be calling me a Jihadist?

    The “uncouth” charge is horseshit.

    Of course it is, after all, mannning wrote it…I find it very amusing that many of the same people who get all bent out of shape when they are called bigots have no problem trotting out the anti-Semitism card when it suits their purposes…meanwhile, as long as there are people who hold this mindset who have any influence on our policies towards Israel, there will never, ever be any kind of peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem…on the contrary, Israel is causing itself enormous long term problems with its settler policies…

  39. mannning says:

    There you go, antisemite! Stoking the conflict! You had two choices basically: support Israel, or support Palestine, because the neutral option simply won’t work, and hasn’t worked for a very long time, as a number of Presidents have found out. You have chosen Palestine, apparently, which means you support ultimately driving Israel into the sea. The Palestinians, along with the Iranians and Syrians, and perhaps the Egyptians now, will not rest until that happens, and you know it. Obama and his noisy criticism of the Israeli settlements has also been a destabilizer in favor of Palestine, and he’s playing with fire. You seem to thnk that is just fine! It will lead to further conflict!

  40. Rob in CT says:

    There you go, antisemite! Stoking the conflict! You had two choices basically: support Israel, or support Palestine, because the neutral option simply won’t work, and hasn’t worked for a very long time, as a number of Presidents have found out. You have chosen Palestine, apparently, which means you support ultimately driving Israel into the sea.

    Amazing. By narrowing the choices down to total support for the Israel Right or else you’re siding with the Palestinian Right, you deduce that AIP is an anti-semite who favors driving Israel into the sea.

  41. An Interested Party says:

    What fools like mannning fail to realize is that Likudnik policies will do far more to destroy the Jewish state than anything that the Palestinians could ever do to destroy Israel…

  42. mannning says:

    What idiots like AIP fail to realize is that every weakening of our support for Israel directly strengthens the radical Palestinian movements’ hands in dealing with the conflict, and further emboldens the surrounding Muslim states in their thrust to eliminate the Jewish state in their midst. There has not been since 1948, and most likely never will be, a peaceful accomodation by the Palestinians with Israel. Only war, interspersed with recovery time. Such is the mentality of Palestinians. Thus, realistically, any peace process is doomed before it begins. The US represents the source of last resort for military weapons and munition items for Israel, and that role must not be compromised. There is no such thing as fairness in this situation; it is the power of the state of Israel against the collective power of the surrounding Muslim states. It is thre height of arrogance and hubris for Obama and his team to believe he can show any progress whatsoever in this arena.Oh, they will take our money, and promise to be good…till the next opportunity to attack Israel.

    But, then, perhaps AIP knows all of this full well, and wants to weaken Israel, as any antisemetic person would.

  43. An Interested Party says:

    @mannning: *CHUCKLE* You at least provide me with amusement…thank you…

  44. mannning says:

    I would say WELCOME, but it is exactly your kind of antisemetic, irresponsible, inhumane and foolish set of mind that will help to lose Israel sooner or later, and that would be a tragedy I would not want on my conscience.

    Sitting back here in the relative safety of the US, people do not realize the constant daily challenges to existence that the Israelis must live under, including hostile armies on their borders that outnumber them, suicide bombers that wreck havoc and kill innocent people in public places, rockets often flying overhead, and the ultimate threat that their nuclear capability poses to us if they are driven to the wall and a nuclear war is begun, say with Iran, that would uinquestionably involve us in the end. So hide your shame, if you have any, and have your inane CHUCKLES while you can, if you can pull your head up out of the sand.

    I view your attitude with real horror and contempt. You are not worth the effort any further.