The Debate

Romney the Pragmatist?

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign is keen to stress its differences with Barack Obama.

I just met up with Robert O’Brien, a former U.S. representative to the United Nations and now a foreign policy advisor to Mitt Romney, and former U.N. Undersecretary General Christopher Burnham to hear a little more about Romney’s foreign policy plans.

O’Brien had plenty to say on what he believes the key challenges facing the United States are, and how a Romney presidency would differ from the Barack Obama administration. In the interests of full disclosure I should add at this point: O’Brien has written for The Diplomat on a couple of occasions, although he was keen to stress that some of his views, including that the United States should indeed sell the latest version of the F-16 fighter to Taiwan, don’t necessarily reflect Romney’s platform. But he also sketched out what he sees as some very clear dividing lines between Romney’s plans and Obama.

The first was a pledge that the United States would reverse plans to shrink the U.S. Navy’s fleet, and instead would boost ship production to allow the U.S. to have a fleet of 313 vessels, rather than cutting to less than 250 as he suggested would happen by the end of a second Obama administration.

Second, he argued that although the United States would still be willing to air differences with allies in private, in public it would stand squarely behind countries such as Israel.

Third, he pointed to China and Russia as countries with which the United States needs to better stand its ground, whether it be over trade issues, territorial claims or relations with U.S. allies. The key here, he said, was not to treat China as an enemy or even competitor, but more to sit down with Beijing and ensure it plays by the rules.

Aside from China, the other key country he singled out was Iran. As I mentioned earlier, Ron Paul’s “leave them alone” approach to Tehran is outside the Republican mainstream, but I also got a sense that the Romney campaign would like to distance itself from some of the more rabid rhetoric of some of his rivals. So military action should be left on the table, and there is a belief that the Obama administration missed an opportunity in not doing more to support the opposition in the wake of disputed elections in 2009. But there’s also an acceptance that it’s far from clear that there is a decisive military solution.