GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stance has left defense experts around the globe wondering how he would alter some Obama administration policies and get tougher with Iran and Russia.
Romney, in an Oct. 8 address at the Virginia Military Institute, offered few new details about his agenda for the Pentagon in an address that mostly slammed President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record.
Romney criticized Obama’s Middle East strategy and panned him for failing to “shape” events there and around the globe. If elected, Romney said he would “firmly and actively” use American power to that end.
But what does that mean? Experts are not sure.
“Based on Romney’s speech, it is impossible to envisage any major change in the U.S. relationship with Europe if he is elected,” said Roberto Menotti, an analyst at Aspen Institute Italy, an international nonprofit research group funded by industry members.
“He wanted to make the point that Obama is not a good decision maker, but there was little critique of actual decisions he made,” Menotti said.
During the campaign, Romney and his surrogates have called Obama too sympathetic toward Moscow, and slammed him for not doing more to help Syria’s rebels defeat President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
During the address, Romney offered up some tough talk for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s nuclear-arms-seeking leaders.
“I will implement effective missile defenses to protect against threats,” the nominee said. “And on this, there will be no flexibility with Vladimir Putin.”
That left analysts wanting more.
“On Libya, Romney was aggressive but vague; on Syria, he was vague; and on Russia, he said he would be tougher, but it is not clear how,” Menotti said.
A healthy chunk of the GOP nominee’s speech criticized Obama’s Middle East strategy and record, blasting the president for failing to “shape” events in that crucial region.
He proposed placing responsibility for all U.S. aid to the Middle East under one individual and pressing recipients harder on how those dollars are used.
Romney talked vaguely about restoring America’s close friendship with Israel, which has waned a bit during Obama’s tenure.
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, insists that many Israelis identify with the conservative world view espoused by Romney and the Republican party. “Israelis want to see a strong America involved in international affairs,” Inbar said.
“The problem is that Obama projected weakness. His whole policy of engagement is perceived in the Middle East as appeasement,” Inbar said.
A former Israeli cabinet member mused that a Romney victory — especially coupled with Netanyahu’s high chances for reelection early next year — could unleash renewed violence and bloodshed on the Palestinian track.
“The repercussions could be terrible if the Palestinians continue to be offended, disparaged and culturally inferior,” said the former Israeli minister. “If they feel they have nothing to lose, they will revert to violence which, in turn, will trigger exceptionally harsh action by the Israel Defense Forces. And when that happens, it will serve as a rallying call for warring camps in this region to sideline their respective agendas and come together against Israel.”
Romney also said that he would deepen cooperation with Washington’s Middle East allies. But he did not spell out how he would “shape” events in the Middle East, a goal that has eluded U.S. presidents of both parties for decades.
Romney vowed he would “put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.”
But in the very next sentence, he laid out a plan that sounded nearly identical to the tactics the Obama administration has been employing for months. “I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran and will tighten the sanctions we currently have,” Romney said.
Analysts in Asia noted other evidence that Romney would be unlikely to dramatically alter the Asian strategy Obama has employed. Because Romney’s foreign policy address mostly Asia, analyst are guessing Romney mostly agrees with Obama’s tactics.
“I think the belief here is that if Romney wins, the fundamentals of U.S. policy toward Asia probably won’t change,” said Wang Dong, a fellow at the Center for International & Strategic Studies at Peking University. “And I don’t see how we can get out of the emerging security dilemma between China and the U.S.”
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, was dour about Romney’s address.
“I found the speech very disappointing, both for what it said ... but mostly for what it did not say,” Cossa said. “To call it a foreign policy address and not mention Asia hardly at all ... shows a lack of balance and a lack of appreciation as to where America’s future interests lie.”
Tom Kington in Rome, Wendell Minnick in Taipei, Barbara Opall-Rome in Tel Avid and John T. Bennett in Washington contributed to this report.