On Monday night, President Obama and Governor Romney will meet in the final presidential debate. The topic: foreign policy and national security.
While I will listen intently to the arguments of both candidates, I am confident that Romney’s foreign policy proposals would be better for America and the world. Though the issues are complex, my reasoning for supporting Romney is pretty simple. President Obama’s foreign policy has been centered on confusion and weakness; I believe that a Romney foreign policy would be centered on clarity and strength.
I should note that I believe Romney’s foreign policy plans have some problems. I think his proposals for increased defense spending offer little additional strategic utility at great financial cost. I also feel that Romney is wrong when he argues that the world “should never see any daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. I believe the United States has a moral obligation to support Israel, but as with any alliance — including our relationship with our closest ally — disagreements sometimes occur. We should never be afraid to address our disputes in an open, positive manner.
That being said, I have a number of major dissensions with both the tone and substance of President Obama’s foreign policy.
For one, I consider Obama’s foreign policy to be inherently confused.
This confusion is most evident in Obama’s foreign policy toward the Middle East. When the president entered office in January 2009, he stated that he would open a new hand to the people of that region. In March 2009, he asserted that he desired a new era of “mutual respect” between the American and Iranian people. Similarly, in his much-vaunted June 2009 Cairo speech, he pledged American support for Egyptian pro-democracy movements.
Sadly, the president’s fine words were not matched with real support. In the case of Egypt, the Obama administration cut pro-democracy aid by as much as 80%. In the case of Iran, in the summer of 2009 when protesters took to the streets following another stolen election, Obama stayed silent. When those protesters were brutally crushed by Iran’s despotic leaders, Obama remained silent. His reasoning? He doesn’t like “meddling.” When Egyptians later rose to demand freedom from Mubarak, America’s hesitant support lacked both credibility and courage. Obama’s pro-respect, pro-freedom rhetoric was rendered impotent by his policy of willful disinterest.
Nowhere is the blended confusion and weakness of Obama’s foreign policy more obvious than with his Libya policy. Obama, under pressure from the E.U., authorized U.S. action to help remove Gadhafi from power in 2011. After making a ludicrous argument as to why the U.S. was not at war with Libya, the Obama administration rapidly moved to reduce U.S. involvement in the Libyan war. Since then, the U.S. has done little to help stabilize and support the Libyan state.
Obama’s foreign policy is also weak. Here are four examples of that weakness.
1.) Russia. “Resetting” U.S. relations with Russia was a top priority for Obama when he entered office. On paper I have no problem with this proposition. Clearly, a positive relationship with Russia is in U.S. interests. However, in reality Obama’s Russian “reset” has meant major U.S. concessions on issues like missile defense, for very little in return. Meanwhile, Russia has been an obstacle to tougher sanctions on Iran and a direct supporter of Assad’s regime in Syria. Perhaps we should have expected that the experience of the last four years would chasten the president’s “reset” agenda. Sadly, though, he has offered more concessions after the U.S. election.
2.) Syria. The U.S. response to Assad’s continued rampage has been utterly pathetic. While Iran feeds Syria with weapons, intelligence officers and soldiers, U.S. support for the rebels has been limited to communication equipment and humanitarian aid. This is far from sufficient. Instead of relying on rhetoric that is useless against an onslaught by tanks and fighter jets, the U.S. could (and should) be taking far more substantive action to support the Syrian revolution.
3.) Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is now America’s longest war. Voter frustrations over the human costs of our effort in the country are obviously significant. Yet, real progress is being made. Unfortunately, the president’s Afghanistan policy has been a mess. In 2009, he took many weeks to decide to increase U.S. forces in the country. He then announced that the U.S. would adhere to a rigid timetable for withdrawal. From my perspective, this announcement was a profound strategic error. As with the president’s recent absurd statement that he would end America’s war “on schedule,” the weakness projected by our current Afghanistan policy is highly damaging. Announcing a rigid deadline projects a strategic disinterest which simultaneously encourages the Taliban and discourages pro-government forces. It makes a just, lasting Afghan peace less likely and more difficult.
4.) Iran. While the president has enacted the toughest counter-nuclear sanctions to date (and deserves credit for doing so), his policy toward preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon is inherently limited by his lack of credibility vis-à-vis an ultimate willingness to use force. Until Iran’s leaders believe that the U.S. is willing to use force to stop their nuclear program, diplomatic avenues will remain restricted.
I believe that a Romney foreign policy would offer greater clarity and strength.
First, a President Romney would be far more likely to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program, because he could more credibly threaten to use force against Iran if it refused to abandon that program.
Second, I believe that Romney would ensure that U.S. successes in Afghanistan were not ceded to the Taliban by a rigid adherence to the 2014 withdrawal timeline.
Third, Romney has pledged to provide the Syrian rebels with arms, and I believe his election would hasten the Assad regime’s collapse.
Fourth, I believe that Romney would be far more reluctant to pursue detente for detente’s sake. It’d be great to have positive relationships with states like Russia, but a real relationship can’t reside on a foundation of one-sided American compromise and ambivalent objectivity.
In the end, I believe that perception and tangible reality are both critically important elements to the success of American foreign policy. Friends, foes and those in between must understand where America stands and what America stand for. I do not believe that President Obama has succeeded in this regard.
I believe a President Romney would.
Tom Rogan is an American blogger and writer currently living in London, England. He recently completed a law course and holds a BA in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, London. His blog can be found at TomRoganThinks.com. Follow him on Twitter.