The Corner

Which Is More Provocative to America’s Enemies — Strength or Weakness?

Much has been said already — on both sides of the aisle — about Governor Romney’s foreign policy speech yesterday. Supporters laud the governor’s forceful defense of American leadership and appreciate his pointed criticism of President Obama’s rudderless foreign policy. Critics claim Romney’s forceful tone is merely a return to former president George W. Bush–style “cowboy” foreign policy, oversimplifying a complicated grey world in black and white terms.

For my money, it was an excellent speech that made a strong case for American leadership in the world. And after watching the speech and subsequent coverage, I think the discussion revolves around one central question: What truly provokes opposition from America’s potential adversaries? Is it American strength or weakness? Which disposition is most “provocative” to our enemies?

Conservatives, myself included, believe a strong America deters challenge, and allows the U.S. to swiftly respond to incidents when they do occur. Liberals, especially those of President Obama’s “progressive” ilk, believe that by leveling the playing field and muting American power, we invite less challenge and resulting violence. It’s not entirely fair to call their position weakness, even if that is the result. President Obama’s foreign-policy approach is instead better summed up as: keep a lower profile, and you’re less likely to get shot at. Think of the Iraq retreat, the Iranian bomb, the Libya attack, the Syrian resistance, and the Afghanistan deadline.

President Obama and the Left believe a more modest American presence in the world leads to less provocation, and therefore less violence against America. By diminishing America’s role, refusing to name the enemy, and reducing defense spending, the president believes he will reduce the likelihood of current conflict, turn down the temperature from radical enemies, and limit America’s desire to respond forcefully to looming threats.

However, as recent events have shown us, none of these positions reduces the threat America faces. America is still engaged throughout the world, and the enemy will still attack where they can. Regardless of what we call them or whether we attempt to ignore them, radical Islamists still seek to destroy America. And taking a “meat axe” to the DOD budget (to use Defense Secretary Panetta’s words), only means we’re less prepared to respond to future attacks.

Governor Romney aptly made these points in his speech — saying that the 9/11 attack in Libya was part of a large struggle that is ongoing against the United States and Western values/interests. We can “duck” and wish the threat away, or be clear-eyed about those who wish to do us harm, and arm ourselves to confront (and deter!) that threat accordingly. As Governor Romney said, “hope is not a strategy”; we cannot wish away threats to America. Instead, in these dangerous times of great consequence, our commander-in-chief should channel the motto of my first infantry platoon: “Those who long for peace, must prepare for war.”

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