The foreign policy of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is still a work in progress. It’s clear that Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and businessman, thinks President Obama is doing a terrible job overseas as well as at home. But the specifics of what Romney would do differently are harder to pin down: Republican senators are scratching their heads over what their nominee will do in Afghanistan and Syria, for instance.
Romney’s Tuesday speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars provided some additional specifics — and some surprising ones. Sure, speeches are at best imperfect guides to how presidents will govern. (Remember when Obama was going to get out of Iraq within 16 months?) But they lay down markers, at least, for judging how candidates approach what Romney called a “dangerous, destructive, chaotic” world. Here are five new and notable aspects of Romney’s emerging foreign policy — some of which look surprisingly familiar.
1. Mitt Agrees with Obama on Afghanistan, Egypt and Maybe Iran.
Put aside the rhetoric. (Obama has “diminished American leadership” was one of the nicer things Romney had to say about his opponent.) Romney sketched out a fair amount of policy continuity with Obama, even if he came to it kicking and screaming.
First, Afghanistan. Romney doesn’t like Obama’s 2014 timeline for ending U.S. combat in the decade-long war, which he called politically motivated. But he likes what it gives him: cover to get out of Afghanistan without getting called weak. “As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” he said. He pledged as well to “evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders” — after saying that his goal is to leave, not to stay. Kind of like the current president.
Then there’s Egypt, which Romney said “has the power to tip the balance in the Arab world toward freedom and modernity.” If Romney’s perturbed by the recent Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt’s first free(ish) presidential election, he didn’t show it. The billion or so dollars in annual aid to Egypt will keep flowing, under unspecified “conditions” to “foster the development of a government that represents all Egyptians, maintains peace with Israel, and promotes peace throughout the region.” You’d have to get really granular to see a difference with Obama there.
Finally, Iran. Romney thinks Iran is “the most severe security threat facing America and our friends.” How he’ll deal with it can be hard to pin down. He didn’t reiterate his November call for new sanctions to halt its nuclear research. “At every turn,” Romney said, “Iran must know that the United States and our allies stand as one in these critical objectives.” That’s what Obama says, too, to justify the multinational sanctions his administration placed on Iran. But it’s no secret that Obama and Israel are out of step, and that’s probably what Romney meant: he’s about to start a foreign trip that’ll take him to Israel.
Still: Romney didn’t deride the effect of sanctions. He didn’t pledge more cyberattacks. He didn’t offer any (bigger) naval buildup around Iran. He called for a “full suspension of any [uranium] enrichment,” possibly as a precondition for talks with Iran — it’s a bit unclear from the text of his speech — which his surrogate Dan Senor called “the only basis of any deal.”
That, at least, is different from Obama’s position, which reportedly is moving away from a no-enrichment stance. Still, it means Romney isn’t ruling out a deal with the Iranians, which is something that Republican politicians do not typically endorse. There are more continuities with Obama here than there are deviations.