Thursday, July 12, 2012


As the US presidential elections move into the summer, we can already begin to trace broad lines of what a Mitt Romney foreign policy might look like.

Here are some initial impressions:

Romney is not an ideologue, but has made space in his foreign policy/national security team for neoconservatives (including John Bolton, who many expect would be given an important position in a Romney administration). Romney also counts the advice of other prominent neoconservatives like Robert Kagan of the Foreign Policy Institute, for example.

- His worldview often invokes Cold War paradigms and Bush-era Manicheaism. He considers Russia to be a chief threat to the US (and reproaches the reset), warns of the challenges posed by China (without giving much attention to the opportunities), has suggested the possibility of military action against Iran, and advocates a global posture that ensures the domination and supremacy of US values and its model throughout the world. Romney regularly uses language hailing an "American century" and "American exceptionalism."

But we can wonder how much of this discourse is to accomodate the electoral context, and what touches on his core values.

- Romney talks about increasing defense spending (to 4% of GDP) and strengthening the American national security apparatus, without clearly specifying why or how to do so in the very restricted current budgetary climate.

- Mitt Romney is a hawk on Israel. The former governor of Massachusetts has, for decades, shared ties to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, though they are not said to be personally close. At different moments during the campaign, Romney has received personal briefings from Netanyahu, and Romney has adopted a tone that would show his intent to become closer to the Israeli leader. In addition to planning a foreign policy trip to Israel at the end of July, he has also promised to do "the exact opposite" of Obama in the Middle East, including renouncing the 1967 borders.

- On Syria, Romney has called to join together with international partners to support the opposition to Bashar al-Assad without going so far as to support the airstrikes called for by fellow Republican John McCain.

- If elected, Romney would be quickly confronted by limits imposed on him by both the American people and warring currents within his own party. Most Americans (and a majority of conservative voters) oppose new military endeavors. They are skeptical of any American-led armed entrepreneurship in world affairs, preferring policies that allow for nation-building at home. Any tendency Romney might have to be active in democracy-promotion or in engaging the US military on a new front would be met with fierce opposition from the public.

Within the Republican Party, too, there is an ongoing debate between several currents of international involvement, ranging from neoconservatism to neo-isolationism and something in-between. As diverse as the differences between Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, or John McCain and Jon Huntsman. For the moment, no one current dominates Republican decision-making.

For further reading on Romney's foreign policy team: