Mitt Romney’s views on foreign policy are familiar flashbacks of rhetoric.
They represent a political approach to foreign policy that was tested under George W. Bush and, quite simply, led to disaster. More muscles and less smart diplomacy are supposed to show the world who is tough: who is with us and who is against us?
For eight years, the Bush policy cost the United States heavily: in the trillions of U.S. dollars that were added to the deficit, in lost credibility, lost support of European allies such as France and Germany, and the rise of anti-Americanism all around the world.
Terror groups were handed massive public relations coups with what some felt was an illegitimate war in Iraq, the U.S. torture programs, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib. These were the episodes that weakened and alienated international public opinion.
Romney’s personal advisers on foreign policy are primarily former Bush advisers, including Dan Senor and John Bolton. The candidate’s views on Syria and Iran reveal the same risky pattern we saw under Bush: a rigid ideology approach that transcends the national interest.
He wants to arm the Syrian opposition, but does he know who are they? Let me introduce them.
The opposition is an umbrella of armed groups, which include radical Islamists, Salfists, armed and financed by the Saudis and Qataris. There is evidence, known to U.S. intelligence agencies, of the strong presence of extremist groups connected to international jihadists (who come from Libya and Yemen and operate today in Syria.)
Unfortunately, the peaceful revolution that started almost two years ago turned quickly after Assad’s crackdown into an armed struggle. Today it’s becoming a proxy war between Sunnis, led by Saudi Arabia, and Shiites, led by Iran. Fighters that wanted freedom and democracy are now in the midst of a civil war.
The Assad regime is doomed, but unfortunately, the country is doomed as well.
No one can touch Syria without owning it, meaning boots on the ground. So if Romney will get involved, he has to occupy Syria. That means starting another costly war that will translate into a huge financial burden on the United States and its allies. This could rapidly become a scenario that would be worse than what we’ve seen in Afghanistan.
Romney seems to define his policies in the region by comparing them to the current Israeli government. That approach toward Iran and the Palestinian issue will once again alienate the Arab Muslim world, which has always resented the United States’ unconditional support for Israel.
Romney has already sent a degrading message to the Palestinians when he said they are culturally inferior and they are committed to the destruction of Israel. He then shifted his claims and stated he would pursue the peace process.
In diplomacy, especially in the Arab world, how can Romney energize the peace process if he has already professed to favor one of the sides and severely insulted the other?
Words in diplomacy mean everything. They make the difference between being taken seriously and outraging people. When it comes to Iran and how to deal with them, incoherent views can easily become risky policies.
Romney said he would tighten sanctions, but how? Iran today is facing the heaviest onslaught of economic sanctions in its history. All central bank transaction and trade activities are monitored and blocked. Its oil exports have been reduced to a minimum. The price of food has soared up to 40%. All this has weakened the regime further and civil society is ready to erupt.
The Obama administration has put tremendous pressure on Iran on multiple fronts, far more than any other administration. Loose talk of war will simply reduce any president’s negotiating position.
A true leader is the one that can take unpopular decisions and exercise restraint. Leadership means thinking about something more than the next election. It means building the kind of bridges that will help the next generation of Americans as they seek to lead the world.