Alphen, the Netherlands, 10 August. All American presidents like to establish a doctrine; a coherent set of foreign and security policy goals that underpin US leadership in the world. What does Mitt Romney’s recent foreign tour say about a future President Romney’s foreign and security policy? Can the beginnings of a Romney Doctrine be discerned?
From a European perspective the visit hardly instilled confidence. Indeed, after his much-heralded gaffe in London when he suggested the city was not ready for the Olympics The Sun, one of Britain’s more populist newspapers ran the headline, “Mitt the Twit”. And yet the three venues for his visit were carefully chosen – Britain, Israel and Poland – and do suggest the stirrings of a world view.
Romney was to some extent pushing at an open door. One of the many and oft unfair criticisms of President Obama has been that his treatment of traditionally faithful allies has been high-handed. Ten years of sacrifice by the British under American leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq was seemingly dismissed in the early days of the Obama administration as they attempted to build new relationships with Germany and France. Poland was told rather brusquely to accept the Administration’s 'reset' with Russia, and Obama has yet to visit Israel, although one is planned if he is re-elected.
And yet Romney came across to Europeans as another ill-informed, plastic American politician – all mouth and no trousers as we say in Yorkshire. Moreover, some of Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements seem ill-advised. His aggressive comments about Russia seemed to reflect a Cold War view of superpower Moscow, rather than a state in rapid decline. Moreover, whilst the visit to Israel clearly demonstrates that a Romney administration would be rightly concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it also suggests that attempts to find a new accommodation with political Islam as represented by the new Egyptian government would be a low priority, which would be a mistake.
Equally, the Romney world view matters. There are those of course who suggest that given America’s huge budget deficit, cuts to US armed forces and the West’s economic turmoil any American president will have far less influence than before. That is only very partially true. The Americans can no longer shape the strategic environment as before, if they ever could, but talk of American decline is dangerously premature. Chinese power is very much over-rated and regional at best with Beijing faced by a host of domestic challenges that will render China’s influence brittle at best. There are simply no other peer competitors to the Americans and there will not be for at least a decade, probably longer.
In fact, given the need to draw down America’s enormous deficit a Romney presidency may well wish the US had less influence. The flip side of influence is responsibility and as the much-berated Obama ‘pivot’ to Asia suggests an over-stretched post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq America could do with less responsibility, not more. And yet, the pace and cope of instable change in the world is likely to generate more not less demand for American leadership. Indeed, whilst the strategic centre of gravity will in time shift to East Asia, many of the flashpoints will be in and around Europe – Iran, Syria, fundamentalism and the search for a new political and economic order in a Middle East for which the West still depends for much of it oil.
It may be this strategic reality that binds Britain, Israel and Poland in the clearly embryonic Romney strategic mind. Indeed, implicit in the trip was a reinvestment in allies who have delivered for America. Therefore, at best the trip represented the early stirrings of a Romney Doctrine and with it a re-orientation of American foreign and security policy towards a new global American worldwide security web – a Republican grand strategy. This state-centric world-wide web of democratic allies and partners would necessarily need to go beyond traditional institutional alliances, such as NATO, if support for an overstretched America is to be bolstered.
Indeed, such a doctrine would involve and require real and simultaneous US political investment in two sets of traditional allies. In the European region that would be Britain, Israel and Poland. In Asia-Pacific Australia, Japan and South Korea would be vital. Successful overtures would also be needed to the likes of India and South Africa, and more close to home Brazil. Where a Romney Doctrine could be different is to link them all together with Washington acting as the hub.
All of the above would require deft American leadership if lost confidence is to be rebuilt. In and of itself the trip did nothing to reinforce that. Indeed, there is no Romney Doctrine as yet, simply a Not Obama Doctrine and that is not enough by far. Romney will need a big foreign policy idea and soon.