Editors' Note: The following two pieces are excerpts from a foreign policy debate hosted by Prof. Peter Feaver's "Foreign Policy of the 2012 Elections" class, held on Oct. 9, 2012.
Today’s world presents a unique blend of challenges like we have never seen before. The Arab world has been swept by democratic movements that inspire new possibilities for fair and representative governments. At the same time, these movements present new challenges. We are dealing with growing powers in Asia, a struggling economy in Europe, and an impending global environmental crisis.
In dealing with these new and complex problems, President Barack Obama’s policies have reminded the world that the United States will always have an unparalleled role in global affairs and exemplified what true American leadership is. American leadership is special. It comes from our values and our principles. From our respect for national sovereignty and our commitment to upholding freedom. From our economic prowess and open borders. And, yes, from our military. But it is the combination of all these that forms true American leadership. At times, that meant working with other countries like Russia and China to enact crippling sanctions on Iran. At other times, it meant taking unilateral steps to ensure America’s national security, such as going into Pakistan and taking out America’s most wanted terrorist. Sometimes this leadership has been proven behind the scenes, such as in Libya, where we worked multilaterally to ensure widespread support against the Qaddafi regime.
Mitt Romney looks upon these actions as demonstrating weakness and “apologizing for America,” but this could not be further from the truth. In contrast to Obama’s strategy of engagement, Romney has been unable to move past the simplistic and rigid mentality of friend states versus enemy states. His brash policies focus only on America’s military might.
Romney’s foreign policy agenda is marked with inconsistencies. He has frequently changed his stance on multiple issues, making it difficult to determine his true policy objectives. Why has he flip-flopped so frequently? Possibly because the Romney-Ryan ticket has less military experience than any presidential ticket in decades. Possibly because he attempts to please both old-guard conservatives focused on nation building and the neo-cons looking to show America’s military power. Maybe he just can’t make up his mind.
Regardless, Romney has demonstrated his naivete on each foreign policy issue. He is not ready to take on the role of commander-in-chief.
Four years ago, President Barack Obama promised this country a dramatic change—that as president, he’d offer bold solutions to confront America’s problems directly.
He said that we needed a world without nuclear weapons, and that he’d use all elements of American power to achieve that goal. He wanted to raise public opinion of America in the Middle East and engage with not only our allies, but our enemies as well.
But Obama’s promises on foreign policy were not fresh ideas, they were a testament to his naïveté. And four years later, we’re seeing the results of this president’s failed leadership.
In Iran, Obama watched from the sidelines as the regime marched its way toward nuclear capability. Our safety has come at the expense of Obama’s ego—in believing that negotiations and his mere charisma could win over the Iranian leaders, he wasted precious time and put our allies in danger. Even as the pro-democracy “Green Revolution” emerged in 2009, Obama stayed silent to avoid tension with our enemies.
In Afghanistan, Obama jeopardized our future security by making the surge a political decision rather than a military one. By ignoring the expertise of his advisors and announcing a timeline for withdrawal before the surge even began, he gave the exit date for all of our enemies to plan for.
And just last month, our nation was attacked. In Benghazi, four Americans were murdered, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. In cities across the Middle East, our flags were burned and our embassies were threatened.
Contrary to what Obama would like you to believe, these attacks were not isolated incidents. They’re the result of a much larger problem, and we’re slowly seeing the effects of four years of policies that alienate our allies and embolden our enemies.
We’ve seen no coherent strategy for addressing the Arab Spring, and public opinion of the US in the Middle East is worse than when Obama took office. And while this president’s policies have succeeded in making our enemies grow stronger, they’ve also strained our relationships with some of our closest allies. President Obama stated at the beginning of his term that he wanted “daylight” between the United States and Israel, and he has succeeded. In order to be strong, the United States must have strong ties with its closest allies. Our president does not understand that.
We cannot apologize for America’s values or downplay the power of our resolve. If America does not lead, others will. We must work to shape the world around us, rather than let our plans be dictated by our enemies.
Under Mitt Romney’s leadership, America will realize its true potential and its duty to steer the world toward freedom and prosperity.
Romney will work swiftly to impose aggressive sanctions on Iran and be clear through our actions—not rhetoric—that their pursuit of nuclear weapons will not be tolerated.
He will create new aid conditions to incentivize countries to promote democracy and protect human rights.
He will consult with our commanders on the ground to ensure that our transition in Afghanistan is an effective and responsible one. When American security is at stake, the decisions made cannot be political calculations.
Romney will renew ties with our closest allies and make sure they know where our priorities lie.
And he will retake America’s place as a leader on the international stage. Obama’s strategy of leading from behind has failed, and we must take steps to show the world that America is as strong as ever.
The 21st century can be an American century, but we cannot get there without strong leaders who recognize America’s full potential. Romney will bring the strategies and solutions to get our country back on track.
-- [When Pakistan said they would close NATO supply routes to Afghanistan unless the Obama administration expressed regret for accidentally killing 24 Pakistani soldiers, he did so. A Romney presidency, out of a slavish devotion to never admitting the US has ever made a mistake, would have jeopardized the mission in Afghanistan. How could a Romney administration ever hope to lead successful peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine when he tells donors privately that “Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish?” How does a Romney administration get Russia and China to work with us on imposing sanctions on Iran, like Obama did, when he has already angered them by calling them our #1 geo-political foe and a currency manipulator? How could a Romney administration achieve ground-breaking agreements with Russia on reduction of nuclear arsenals when he has already entrenched divisions between the two countries by calling them our #1 geo-political foe? How could a Romney administration get China to enforce sanctions on Iran when he has already angered them by calling them a currency manipulator? The answer is: he can’t. Obama understands that the world is more complex than just friends and enemies. Long gone is the time when “you’re either with us or against us” was considered a valid foreign policy. We cannot shutter the windows of diplomacy this President has fought so hard to open. We will work with any country if it is in our interest to do so, because complex problems demand complex solutions. We expect a President with the vision, passion, and purpose to find the path, and the determination to lead us down it. We expect a President who can represent American values on the world stage and advocate for freedom and democracy across the globe. The warped world-view of the Bush’s and Romney’s in this country lead them to criticize Obama for “leading from behind”. But Americans also expect a President who understands that a leader is no leader at all if no one follows, and that we can accomplish so much more together than we can apart. In President Obama, America has found a true leader.]
[Under Governor Romney’s leadership, America will realize its true potential and its duty to steer the world toward freedom and prosperity. Governor Romney will work swiftly to impose aggressive sanctions on Iran and be clear through our actions—not rhetoric—that their pursuit of nuclear weapons will not be tolerated. He will create new aid conditions to incentivize countries to promote democracy and protect human rights. He will consult with our commanders on the ground to ensure that our transition in Afghanistan is an effective and responsible one. When American security is at stake, the decisions made cannot be political calculations. Governor Romney will renew ties with our closest allies and make sure they know where our priorities lie. And he will retake America’s place as a leader on the international stage. President Obama’s strategy of leading from behind has failed, and we must take steps to show the world that America is as strong as ever. The 21st Century can be an American century, but we cannot get there without strong leaders who recognize America’s full potential. Mitt Romney will bring the strategies and solutions to get our country back on track.]
[At the end of the day it’s time to look beyond the soaring rhetoric and the grand promises and ideals of a President, and ask ourselves, “Is America’s place in the world better today than it was four years ago?” Is Iran further away or closer to a nuclear weapon? Is North Korea further or closer to giving theirs up? Are our embassies, our diplomats, and our interests in the Middle East more or less welcome? More or less safe? Is our military more or less capable of meeting the challenges we face as a nation? With a trillion dollars in defense spending cuts, are our soldiers, our heroes, more or less equipped? But most importantly, are our people more or less likely to say, that the greatest days of the United States on the world stage are over?]