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Foreign Policy Matters: Romney Chooses Belligerence Over Coherence

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Detractors have blistered Mitt Romney for lacking vision because his national security prescriptions contrast with Obama's only in shades -- deviating in form, not content. But these critics miss the point: Style is Romney's strategy. In the absence of any articulate doctrines to call his own Romney has made a concerted effort to match Obama's positions in substance while amplifying the rhetoric, oftentimes to a dangerous degree, in an attempt to appear like a stronger leader capable of recapturing America's global preeminence.

In trying to achieve this elusive objective Romney has reverted to the confrontational approach favored by the Vulcans of the George W. Bush administration. The Republican challenger's worldview is a hodgepodge of Cold War ideology, right-wing exceptionalist machismo and Judeo-Christian evangelism which was forged in Mitt's struggle against his extremist GOP primary rivals. In fact, Daniel Larison over at American Conservative believes he has the potential to out-neocon the neocons: "Romney seems more inclined to provoke other major powers than Bush was..."

So true. On the campaign trail thus far the former Massachusetts governor has deliberately antagonized our adversaries -- those both real and imagined. Romney's idea of statecraft (i.e., delivering ultimatums) and utter aversion to diplomacy represents a mentality ill-equipped for the multipolar geostrategic arena in which we exist.

He also seems oblivious to underlying structural forces that will not be reversed by a single charismatic figure, especially one with a unilateralist bent. Amidst America's economic decline in an interconnected global society and given the broad distribution of power across a myriad of emerging states, the U.S. no longer has the luxury of imposing its agenda on the international stage. It would be wise for the U.S. to attempt the novelty of engaging perceived foes, not alienating them. Point being, given today's new world order, bellicosity is not a virtue.

The language used by his foreign policy advisers is very telling of Romney's overall attitude, as well as very frightening considering the aforementioned geopolitical realities. According to Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson in the Washington Post Romney's aides say their candidate "would exert American influence far more aggressively than the sitting president" and that he believes "forceful U.S. activism is needed to shape world events." Yet their plans for implementing this bombast don't sound very credible and amount to nothing more than name-calling and transparent threats.

Instead of positing a creative alternative to Obama's "reset" with Moscow, for instance, Romney saber-rattles, operating out of a paradigm that went obsolete 20 years ago. Nothing evidences this mindset more clearly than the GOP candidate labeling Russia America's "number one geopolitical foe", a claim roundly refuted by foreign policy experts across the political spectrum, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

When Reagan, a leader Romney likes to fashion himself after, confronted Russia as the Evil Empire the rhetoric had an end goal of forcing the Soviets to the negotiating table, a strategy buttressed by the knowledge that the Soviet state was suffering from internal decay. In short, Reagan's tough talk was appropriate for the times and prevailing conditions. Unfortunately for Mitt, the Cold War is over.

The Romney camp advocates levying crippling sanctions against Iran if it continues to develop nukes and has unequivocally stated that the military option is on the table, which is precisely the same stance as the one taken by Obama. In fact, the White House and State Department have worked tirelessly to form an unprecedented coalition to implement the severest sanctions against Iran the world has ever seen. Mitt, of course, throws in a tactical wrinkle: Within his first 100 days he will supposedly deploy aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf to show Iran the U.S. means business. Experts see this as pure posturing and an approach unlikely to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Since the campaign's outset Romney has agreed with Obama's Afghan withdrawal timetable although he won't admit it. Once again, Romney starts with a baseline position that mirrors the president's then tries to one-up him. He now says the U.S. should wait an additional six months rather than pull troops during the summer "fighting season." But Mitt has been silent on Afghanistan lately because he realizes the American public can no longer stomach protracted, open-ended commitments. Besides, pushing the timeline out another six months will only provide the Taliban with an opportunity to kill more of our soldiers while allowing the Karzai regime to steal more of our money.

Romney has not tried to differentiate himself from Obama in any transformational way -- he has simply amped the volume. Although the economy will drive this election, foreign policy does matter because it's the government function over which the president has the most direct control. If elected, Romney would mimic Obama's policies but would carry them out less diplomatically, which is a stylistic difference of grave importance considering Romney is fully capable of starting a general war with Iran, igniting another cold one with Russia and extending our stay in the Afghan quagmire.