Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech last Monday was somewhat vague, general and lacking in specifics, but it showed us once again that there is really very little difference between the Republican and Democratic parties and their policies. This is particularly true in foreign affairs. It is difficult to see where Governor Romney's ideas are very different from President Obama's policies. Both would give support to people struggling for freedom in emerging countries. Mr. Romney seems more willing -- even eager -- to go to war in Iran and Syria. However, there really is no great degree of difference between the two parties in foreign policy.
There may be gridlock in Washington today on economic and domestic matters because of partisan, political and ideological battles between the two parties. They disagree and fight over tax rates, environmental policies, business regulation, abortion, gay marriage and other social issues. However, they think alike on foreign policy and both of the parties they belong to must share the blame for our failed foreign policies of the past.
After World War II we increased our military forces to the point where we dominated the world militarily. We have been spending under both Republicans and Democrats about half of all the money spent in the world on military forces. We spend more than the next twenty-five or so countries in the world combined. There is no nation today which can match us in military strength.
Over the years both Democratic and Republican administrations attempted to extend our influence and power around the world with the threat of that military force. We have tried to dominate the world and to be its policeman. We actually used that great military power on several occasions with less than success. The Korean War resulted in a stalemate. We suffered tremendous losses in the Vietnam conflict. When we overthrew Saddam Hussein in Iraq by invading that country, we became embroiled in a quagmire from which we only recently extracted ourselves. The war in Afghanistan continues with less than obvious success. The results of these military endeavors have not been beneficial to our interests. We have sided with dictators who are hated in their countries, and we have made millions of enemies around the world. The presence of our military forces in Saudi Arabia near the Muslim holy cities is one of the reasons given by Osama bin Laden of Al Qaeda for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The record shows that the application of military force did not often solve underlying problems. It is not even clear that we identified accurately the problems. In any event, war was not the solution.
A source of continuing discord in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We probably are the only nation capable of acting as a mediator in forcing both sides to make the necessary concessions for peace. Our weakness here was obvious when President Obama asked Israel to freeze the construction of new settlements in the West Bank to begin peace discussions, and Israel refused. The Palestinians will not listen to us because they regard us as an ally and supporter of Israel, not an impartial arbiter.
There is one difference in the two parties' current approach to foreign affairs. Governor Romney last Monday called for increasing military expenditures. He has asked for an increase in the number of our troops and for the construction of additional ships and nuclear submarines. Apparently this is for the purpose of flaunting our strength and frightening our enemies. This does not address what is our biggest problem-terrorism. It is difficult to see how an aircraft carrier or nuclear submarine can identify and apprehend a terrorist attempting to explode a suitcase bomb in Times Square.
It should be obvious to all that the application of military force in the past has not achieved our foreign policy goals. It has not brought peace to the world, and it has resulted in the recruitment by terrorist organizations of militants who hate us and regard us as an implacable enemy. It alone cannot rid us of terrorists.
Surely we are not going to go to war against China or Russia. We may not like their trade policies, but they pose no existential threat to us.
We need new thinking in this area of foreign policy. We need new thinking on how to engage the moderate elements in the uprisings of the Arab Spring. We need to apply new ideas to the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. Save for the notable exceptions such as the departing congressmen Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, we do not see any creative or imaginative new ideas coming from either the Republicans or the Democrats. We need a new political party with new ideas.
The vice presidential debate last week did not enlighten us, and the debate this week and the foreign policy-focused one on Oct. 22 probably will not.