The Corner

Romney as Reagan, Obama as Carter

Mr. Romney’s foreign-policy speech reprises President Reagan’s belief in American exceptionalism and global leadership. Based on those two core principles, Romney enumerates a list of specific actions. As president, he would:

1. tighten sanctions against Iran — while going no less and no farther than President Obama in obliquely referring to America’s military sword;

2. increase military aid and coordination with Israel — a delicate maneuver since Israel would like a degree of military coordination that would complicate our freedom of unilateral action and our coordination with NATO and Arab states; 

3. use our aid to Egypt as leverage to channel Egypt’s political course;

4. consult with our generals about the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan;

5. stand up to Putin’s Russia, China, Venezuela, and Cuba;

6. champion free trade — unlike Mr. Obama, who signed one such trade agreement in four years;

7. insure Syria obtains the weapons “to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.”

His critique of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy centers on the lack of leadership — “leading from behind.” He cites the attack upon our consulate in Libya as evidence that the War on Terror most certainly did not end with the death of Osama bin Laden.

Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney refuses to acknowledge that the essential problem in the Middle East is a clash between civilizations. He points to the anti-American mobs rioting in two dozen countries as being “under the black banner of Islamic extremism.” But he then resorts to anodyne rhetoric, claiming that “Muslims, Christians” are standing side by side in “a struggle between liberty and tyranny.” Manifestly, the intense anti-Americanism and rejection of Western values, to include education and self-improvement, has deep roots within the Muslim religious community. The murders of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the numbers of suicide bombers taught in the madrasas in Pakistan should not be ascribed to a vague secular struggle between liberty and tyranny.

That misleading characterization, however, is shared by both political parties. The mainstream press, which endorses that view, will not object. The overall speech is free of bellicosity and saber-rattling. The press may be tempted to claim there is scant difference from Mr. Obama, eliding the basic theme that Mr. Romney is pointing out that the current administration has abdicated global leadership. 

The glaring difference in terms of specifics is Romney’s endorsement of ensuring Syrian rebels receive high-tech weapons. That is a clear break with the administration, the U.N. and NATO. It would change the balance of power inside Syria. Two decades ago, the U.S. via Pakistan armed Afghan fighters with high-tech Stinger anti-air missiles. We were able to keep account of them, and none were later used against our interests. Technically, the CIA and our Special Operations Forces could do so again. Before we got that far, though, the psychological effect of American involvement would probably cause Assad’s forces to disintegrate and seek terms of surrender.

Whether the administration, abetted by the press, will claim that arms for Syria will involve America in another war is doubtful. That line of debate would open up, for instance, the question of why we chose to intervene in Libya, and then did not protect our own ambassador.

In summary, Mr. Romney has presented a foreign-policy view akin to that of President Reagan, asserting faith in American leadership — while equating Mr. Obama’s leadership to that of the timid President Jimmy Carter.

Bing West is co-author with Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Dakota Meyer of Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghanistan War.

Bing WestMr. West, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine, is a military historian. He has written ten books about our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the latest of which is The Last Platoon: A Novel of the Afghanistan War.


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