President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney on Sept. 25 offered strikingly divergent visions for how they would carry out U.S. foreign policy.
The challenger signaled, if elected, he would aim to shape developments in the Middle East and North Africa, while proposing to give the private sector an unprecedented role in providing dollars to developing nations.
The incumbent vowed he would never “dictate” the outcomes of democratic transitions, and spoke of pursuing Washington’s goals by working through international organizations.
“Many Americans are troubled by developments in the Middle East,” Romney said during morning remarks on Sept. 25 at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York. “We feel we’re at the mercy of events, not shaping them.”
Less than two hours later, speaking at a United Nations General Assembly session in New York, Obama said: “The United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad.”
Where Obama said, “We do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue,” Romney promised: “I will never apologize for America.”
Romney laid out a plan that would give corporations a bigger role in doling out U.S. dollars to the developing world. His proposal comes after several years during which congressional Republicans have fought hard to slash federal foreign aid spending.
The GOP nominee said Americans have a “passion for charity.” But too often, U.S. “aid is not always effective,” he said.
“We see stories of cases where American aid has been diverted to corrupt governments. We wonder why years of aid and relief seem never to extinguish the hardship, why the suffering persists decade after decade,” Romney said.
“Perhaps some of our disappointments are due to our failure to recognize just how much the developing world has changed. Many of our foreign aid efforts were designed at a time when government development assistance accounted for roughly 70 percent of all resources flowing to developing nations,” Romney said.
“Today, 82 percent of the resources flowing into the developing world come from the private sector,” he said. “If foreign aid can leverage this massive investment by private enterprise, it may exponentially expand the ability to not only care for those who suffer, but also to change lives.”
To Romney, a former businessman who made millions in the private sector, it’s all about creating jobs in impoverished regions like the Middle East by establishing free enterprise, and setting up America-style economic systems across the globe.
“Free enterprise has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system, not only because it is the only system that creates a prosperous middle class, but also because it is the only system where the individual enjoys the freedom to guide and build his or her own life,” he said.
Under a program a Romney administration would call “Prosperity Pacts,” the GOP nominee said he would work “with the private sector [to] identify the barriers to investment, trade and entrepreneurialism in developing nations.”
From there, U.S. government and private-sector officials would send aid packages to developing nations that drop trade barriers and open their markets to U.S. investment and trade, Romney said. Those nations must also embrace “liberty, the rule of law and property rights,” he said.
Obama, in the meantime, offered during his U.N. address a more conventional approach to carrying out U.S. foreign policy.
“At a time of economic challenge, the world has come together to broaden prosperity. Through the G-20, we have partnered with emerging countries to keep the world on the path of recovery,” the Democratic incumbent said. “America has pursued a development agenda that fuels growth and breaks dependency, and worked with African leaders to help them feed their nations. New partnerships have been forged to combat corruption and promote government that is open and transparent.”