Romney's 'Pivot' George W. Bush?
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Romney's 'Pivot' George W. Bush?


(The Diplomat over the next few weeks will be featuring the U.S. Presidential Election and what effect it may have on the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific region. Our hope is to provide a broad array of opinions and ideas from both sides of the political spectrum. Note: All opinions published are those of the author and not the views of this publication. Please also see: How Obama’s India Policy Has Made America Stronger)

After months of campaigning that has been largely devoid of foreign policy debate, the American electorate is finally seeing some contrast between the candidates’ views following the first presidential debate and Gov. Romney’s foreign policy address at the VMI on Monday.

China emerged as an economic bogeyman.  Governor Romney took several pot shots at China during the debate, arguing that America’s economic security is at risk due to borrowing money from China.  “Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it.”  President Obama hit China on the campaign trail, vowing to close loopholes that allow companies to claim tax deductions for exporting jobs, and pointing out that Romney’s former firm, Bain capital, pushed companies to outsource jobs to China. He’s also enacted measures to block Chinese firm from working on a wind energy project that is close to a military base, and has initiated action at the WTO to challenge China’s subsidies for Auto parts.

While they both seem to agree that China is of growing economic concern, the candidates have sketched out increasingly divergent positions on U.S. security issues.  President Obama is several years into a “pivot” to Asia. Fulfilling a central campaign theme, he ended the war in Iraq and executed a surge in Afghanistan, leading to the planned completion of the U.S. mission by 2014.  He has also invested in strengthening U.S. relations with other countries in Asia.  Two examples are rekindled ties with Burma following its release of human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi and economic liberalization, and the announcement of closer military ties with Australia, including a new agreement to base U.S. naval forces at a facility in Western Australia.

In his VMI address, Governor Romney focused almost exclusively on the Middle East, vowing to tighten America’s relationship with Israel, preventing Iran’s weapon’s program from succeeding,  and making a veiled reference to possibly extending the timeline for American forces in Afghanistan. He criticized the administration’s pivot to Asia as an abandonment of our European allies, and seemingly suggested that the U.S. withdrew from Iraq too soon. Romney vowed to recommit to NATO and increase the U.S. defense budget, including an expansion of the Navy by 15 new ships per year. In this address, China was only mentioned in passing.

It is difficult to square Romney’s views on China with his foreign policy proposals.  They are mutually exclusive, as it would not be possible to significantly expand the military, extend conflicts in the Middle East, and simultaneously lower taxes without borrowing money to pay for it.

His views also lack imagination – igniting conflicts that the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to and increase defense budgets? It sounds like a pivot back to the Bush years, and paints a picture of a candidate with no ideas of his own, yearning for the simplicity of the Cold War.  A look at Romney’s foreign policy team is illustrative – almost all of them are veterans of the team that architected the Iraq war in the George W. Bush administration.

President Obama must take him to task for these inconsistencies, and defend his foreign policy more vigorously.  Perhaps more importantly, he needs to articulate a vision for his second term that the American people can understand.  With the escalation of unrest in the Middle East, the President has a great opportunity – the democratic reforms that many longed hoped to see in this region have now happened.  What is missing is a vision of how the U.S. should engage with these embryonic and disorganized new regimes in a way that furthers American interests.

For now, both candidates seem to be willing to cast China as the villain in America’s economic growth, and we should expect to see more China bashing from both sides.  The President currently enjoys a lead among voters as being the most trustworthy on foreign policy.  Whether he can keep that lead will depend on his ability to defend his Asia pivot and provide a more realistic vision of American leadership than his opponent.

Doug Raymond is the founder and CEO of Julu Mobile, a technology company based in Shanghai, and a fellow of the Truman National Security Project.

Theo Prinse
October 22, 2012 at 19:07

The point is that Obama – naively having sympathy for Islam - wants (like the Clinton's for Big islam Oil reasons) to spread the influence of the socialist Muslim Brotherhood, Sharia law, the Caliphate … resulting into what Romney no longer can avoid to have most of the Islamic world slowly behind an immigration and economic Iron Curtain. The latter needs a completely overhaul of the military doctrines and strategies. In contradiction to the Clinton's Romney wants to be Energy Independent in in 2020

October 14, 2012 at 23:05

Spying is not a new problem. Israel is considered by the CIA as one of the biggest spy threats, but I don't think most americans see Israel as a big problem.
CIA considers Israel one of its biggest spy threats
There's no need for a big hoo ha about China's so called "problem".

Leonard R.
October 14, 2012 at 21:59

@Bankotsu: "What's the China problem?"

Ha, where to start?  Here's just some recent stuff that has popped up.
But there is a lot more — going back years. At some point, even Americans wake up and say, 
"Houston, we have a problem". 

Zach Feinberg
October 14, 2012 at 14:11

God I hope you are right Bankotsu. Objectively, I don't like President Obama's policies nearly as much as I did back in 2008, but Romney flat out scares the hell out of me. His ignorance on foreign policy and ways of responding to the intricacies of international relations and crises leads me to think that a war with Iran and increasing conflict in the Middle East will erupt should he win. Likewise, I don't think he understands the Chinese at all, and right now we need someone whose already had experience dealing with them behind the wheel. 

talking points
October 14, 2012 at 12:46

Romney might be right. Middle Eastern democracy will produce a more cohesive Arab world, in time a much stronger force in the sense of Islam revival. Israel is not sustainable long term. this is not good for American Jews, they will lobby US to focus on middle east for eternity. they will get what they want.

October 12, 2012 at 22:05

"OTOH, Americans 'get' the China problem."
What's the China problem?

Leonard R.
October 12, 2012 at 18:39

The author makes a good point about the contradiction in Romney's China views. But IF he can get elected, it might be his hawkish China positions that swing a few states into his column. He would be well-advised to keep his promises.
And he would be well-advised not to appear like a hawk on the Middle East. Most Americans don't care much about that part of the world. They don't think it's worth fighting over. Like Mr. Raymond points out, Romney's team needs to avoid being painted as Bush III.  
OTOH, Americans 'get' the China problem. There is actually a rare consensus in the US about China. There is not much difference between Obama's 'rebalancing' and what Romney's neocon advisors like Friedburg & Bolton want.  The hawks have won for the time being. The big differences now, are over the Mid-East. And Romney should tread carefully. Americans are sick of middle eastern wars. 

October 12, 2012 at 18:03

Romney will lose.

October 12, 2012 at 12:13

Maybe I'm just being naive (probably am) but what's up with all the partisan crap on the site lately?!?!?   I think until the election is over I'll just RSS 'The Naval Diplomat' but given the editors insight into allowing articles like the aforementioned, they'll probably force James to write a piece on the sea-worthiness of Romney's row boat. 

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