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Election 2012 / CAMPAIGN 2012


The National Journal/CBS News debate on Saturday night will be the first time that many GOP candidates have explained their foreign-policy views.

Mitt Romney speaks at 2011 CPAC.(Chet Susslin)

photo of Kevin Baron
November 12, 2011

Mitt Romney will not apologize for America. That’s been his go-to foreign policy talking point and is a good description for most of his national security proposals.

Backed by a reputable group of conservative Washington foreign policy advisers, Romney has constantly dogged President Obama over his efforts to repair America’s reputation with foreign countries after President George W. Bush’s departure from office.

With a steadily hawkish motif, Romney emphasizes deploying more troops abroad in the Middle East, cutting aid to wishy-washy allies, building a stronger homeland defense at the border, and pushing tougher global economic policies from Washington to keep America “strong.”


“I do not apologize for America. Our president has taken a different approach,” Romney told a Republican Hispanic group in Florida in September. “We can’t lead the world by hoping our enemies—like the rogue regimes in Havana and Caracas—will hate us less.”

In a Wall Street Journal column on Wednesday, Romney hit Obama for displaying “weakness” toward Iran and warned the president’s approach could lead to “a cascade of nuclear proliferation in the unstable Middle East.” Romney claimed the White House’s “reset” with Russia gained the U.S. nothing, and he accused Obama of “botched diplomacy.”

WHO’S CALLING THE SHOTS IN AFGHANISTAN? Romney has been noticeably unclear about what he would do about Afghanistan. During a January visit there, he supported a longer-term U.S. presence. But in June, he said U.S. troops should come home quickly from Afghanistan’s “war of independence,” drawing immediate GOP criticism and accusations of a flip-flop. However, Romney also used a popular GOP talking point to criticize Obama’s 2015 troop withdrawal deadline, by adding the caveat that any withdrawal decision should follow the recommendation of U.S. generals. The position implies that as president Romney would defer presidential war decisions to the advice of subordinate military commanders. In his major foreign policy address at The Citadel, S.C., Romney said only that he would order a full review of the plan to transition security to Afghan forces, heed his generals’ advice, and make force-level decisions “free from politics.”

BAD CALL ON IRAQ. Romney quickly blasted Obama’s decision to pull troops from Iraq this year, ahead of most Republicans and conservative foreign policy voices. In a New Hampshire speech last month, he called the decision “either a monumental political calculation on his part or... a monumental failure.” The candidate has not made clear what he would prefer U.S. troops to do, however, if they stayed.

SURROUND IRAN. In one of his most specific national security proposals, Romney called for aircraft carrier strike groups to be deployed to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf as a show of force to Iran. The U.S. currently has tens of thousands of U.S. troops on all sides of Iran, including bases, aircraft carriers, and a robust naval presence constantly trolling those bodies of water. Still, Romney says he’d make clear to Iran that the U.S. has “a very real and very credible military option,” in addition to supporting dissident “voices,” increasing aid to Israel, and coordinating with regional allies.

KEEP MISSILE DEFENSES AGAINST RUSSIA. Romney has said Obama’s decision to “pull back” missile defense was “a mistake.” But Obama’s plan, backed by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican, amounts to more of a shift in European missile defense architecture than a pullback, and it has NATO support. Under Obama, the Pentagon and NATO have begun to build a more mobile, ship-borne defense net focused on an incoming salvo of medium-range Iranian missiles, which Gates said was a more likely scenario than nuclear attack from Cold War-style Russian intercontinental missiles. Romney has taken generic shots at the White House’s efforts to “reset” relations with Russia, which remains under the control of strongman President Vladimir Putin.

ISRAEL’S BEST FRIEND. Romney will not be outdone by his rivals in supporting Israel. He has claimed President Obama is “disdainful” of the Middle East ally and has thrown Israel “under the bus” in pursuit of wider Middle Eastern gains. Romney called the Palestinian push for statehood in the U.N. a “disaster” and has threatened to block Palestinian aid and U.N. funding.

GET TOUGHER ON CHINA AND TRADE. Romney has used his campaign to hit China hard and often, portraying it as the biggest threat to American hegemony and criticizing the administration’s efforts to engage the rising economic power. He has not offered specific plans for how the U.S. should address China’s military buildup. “If you are not willing to stand up to China, you are going to get run over by China,” he said in an October debate, and pledged to punish China for currency manipulation. In a speech after meeting with Microsoft executives in October, Romney called for a series of retaliatory actions to penalize Beijing, including trade sanctions, duties on Chinese imports, and banning U.S. government purchases of Chinese goods. Romney later praised the passage of trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that he said had “languished” for three years.

NATIONAL SECURITY SPENDING AND FOREIGN AID. Romney has avoided many foreign policy specifics by advocating for a “strong” America, but gets specific about having a strong economy for national security. He has said the national debt owed to foreign creditors puts the U.S. “in peril.” Romney also has repeatedly pledged to “reverse Obama-era defense spending cuts,” although defense spending has risen every year under Obama. He is calling for defense to take a larger slice of the budget, equal to 4 percent of the GDP, which he says is possible with tax cuts, in part, because of the savings expected from drawing down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And he would increase the pace of U.S. shipbuilding and maintain the fleet of 11 aircraft carriers, rejecting proposals to cut one for quick savings.

Romney has lauded American “soft power” and pledged to use it, but he said in USA Today this month he would cut back foreign aid to any countries that “oppose America’s interests,” which is a nod especially toward Pakistan. Traditionally foreign aid is used to sway countries to be favorable toward United States policies.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WON’T COME. Romney also pledges to complete “a high-tech fence” at the American border and spend more on border control manpower and resources.

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