Mitt Romney gave a speech today at the VFW convention, providing a counterpoint to Barack Obama’s talk there yesterday. While foreign and security affairs play a smaller role in any national campaign (absent an ongoing crisis), the sheer tumult of recent years, along with looming dangers, may bring more attention than usual to America’s role in the world. For a president who mandated $487 billion in defense cuts over the next decade, on top of about another $400 billion already cut or “saved” from 2010–12, it took some cheek to slam the Republicans for being willing to cut defense while preventing tax increases on America’s top earners. Yet, in response, Romney, while pulling no punches, attempted to articulate a larger vision for America’s global power. Sure, Romney lambasted Obama for kowtowing to the Russians, undercutting our allies, and ignoring Iran’s democracy protests. He also went through a typical list of areas where Obama was failing, from undercutting our effort in Afghanistan to refusing to recognize China’s unfair economic policies (he will still get lots of pushback on the idea of labeling China a currency manipulator).
But Romney was strongest in his broad vision. He started off by talking about America’s “destiny and duty” in the world, arguing in favor of the American exceptionalism that Obama refused to acknowledge was unique. Romney argued that the three pillars of American strength were economic, military, and moral, and that they are interlinked. When one falls, the others are weakened. Economics, in this view, is more than merely jobs or wealth, but a worldview itself, of free actors fulfilling their interests and exercising their talents in an unfettered market. It is thus as moral as our Judeo-Christian concepts of family and law. As for our military policy over the decades, it has selflessly sacrificed to bring freedom to millions around the globe, whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East.
Yet that vision will face increasingly difficult challenges: perhaps a nuclear Iran, a tottering Saudi Arabian dynasty, or a China that winds up in a shooting war with its maritime neighbors. Summoning America’s moral strength will be important, but even more crucial will be our willingness to stand for order, to refuse to accommodate aggression, and to maintain a military that makes it absolutely clear we can and will be able to back up our words, protect our interests, and live up to our commitments for a generation to come.
Disclaimer: I advise the Romney campaign, but my views are my own and do not represent the campaign.