Following up with Max’s The 2012 Stakes, Part I, I am going to discuss what’s at stake with foreign affairs in this election.
James Traub wrote in our 2012 January issue that in Romney’s view, President Obama is a soft man in a hard world, someone who apologizes constantly, a man who lacks the will to do what is necessary to protect the American people. In fact, the world is not as dangerous as Mitt Romney claims and he will increase the threats to American interests rather than decrease them. Following his international agenda, the U.S. will create more adversaries while alienating existing allies. As we saw during the Bush years, solitary chest-thumping belligerence is a lousy strategy.
Romney has stridently criticized the president’s Iran policy, though as usual he has not offered any specifics as to how he would do things differently. The sanctions on Iran were coordinated by UN Security Council which China and Russia also approved. It has crushed Iran’s economy, and recently Al-Arabya reported that the Iranian regime has suspended uranium enrichment to get the sanctions lifted. Obama has also been notably reluctant to accede to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire for air strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, given that they would not delay obtaining a bomb for very long, and would likely trigger retaliatory strikes across the Middle East and elsewhere.
Mitt Romney, by contrast, has long supported taking immediate military action against Iran if they do not stop the development of nuclear technology. As Election Day comes closer, he has been vague about his original stance on taking an immediate military action against Iran, but he has shown no willingness to push back against Netanyahu or the AIPAC bloc in Congress, or more importantly his own hyper-aggressive party.
Mitt Romney’s claim that Obama is letting China “run all over us” is either dishonest or indicates he does not have much understanding of foreign issues. Romney said if he is elected he would put China before the World Trade Organization to charge them against manipulating their currency, the renminbi, for cheap exports. However, this is easier than done. First, China’s currency manipulation has eased substantially in the last few years. Second, new tariffs could spark a retaliatory trade war. Third, severing already highly intertwined connection with China will make it hard for the U.S. to carry out future international operations. The U.S. has been cooperating with China in solving variety of issues such as global economy, energy supplies and climate change. Finally, our allies might not even want the U.S. to take an action just yet against China as they also share benefits of cheap Chinese labor and growing Chinese markets.
Furthermore, Romney said if he is elected, he will increase defense spending by $50 billion a year to counter rising militarism of China in Pacific. He has said he will concentrate this budget to promote ship building against China’s expansion and to protect allies of the U.S. in South East Asia. As Obama mentioned in Presidential Debate on foreign relations, America’s security is not about bulking up the size of the navy anymore—we already have half the world’s naval power, nearly five times as much as Russia in second place. (Even if Mitt Romney is right about increasing the size of the navy, he still has not explained what kind of domestic cuts he will make to compensate for the increase in military budget consistent with his proposed cap on government spending.)
Romney claims Obama does not keep the core interests of the U.S. secure. Then he says his agenda to attack Iran and punish China would place the U.S. in a better position internationally. But if we think back to when George W. Bush tried out this kind of diplomacy-by-cudgel, the results were a disaster. President Obama is, by contrast, relatively cautious. And internationally, pre-election polls speak for themselves—President Obama receives 64 percent in Germany, 62-65 percent support in Britain, 65 percent in Brazil, more than 70 percent in Canada, 67 percent in Australia, and 72 percent in France.