Mitt Romney is a peculiar politician: having served as the governor of ultra-liberal Massachusetts, he’s now running for the G.O.P. presidential nomination as a "true conservative." With his plate full of questions about his Mormon faith — to saying nothing about the accusations in "flip-flopping" on social issues — Romney seems to have more important things to do than to outline his future foreign policy priorities. But watching his arch-rival, Rudy Giuliani, speaking tough on "national security" issues, Romney had no other choice as to jump into the ring. Hence the article in the July/August 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, "Rising to a New Generation of Global Challenges."
In the crowd of the presidential candidates, Romney stands out by having prior successful business career. It shows in the the way Romney approaches international issues. His article is not a column written by an ideologue, much less a sermon delivered by a mad preacher. It is a business plan. A business plan articulating steps Romney’s White House will take to confront the challenges facing the nation.
Granted, Romney has done his home work, and his list of threats to America’s interests around the world includes all "usual suspects": Iran, Hugo Chavez, and, of course, "the economic rise of China." But in contrast to some other fellow candidates, Romney is too smart to claim that the main, if not the only, danger to the U.S.’ security comes from the current inhabitant of the White House. Instead, an experienced CEO as he is, Romney correctly identifies the right target: "the threat posed by radical Islam."
Admitting the fact the nation’s attention focuses on Iraq, Romney nevertheless points out that
" … the jihad is much broader than any one nation, or even several nations. It is broader than the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, or that between the Israelis and the Palestinians."
Romney is deeply concerned that the current debate in Washington cannot go beyond endless discussions on whether the troops should stay in Iraq or be withdrawn, or whether Iraq should remain a unitary state or be partitioned. He is upset with the government inability to identify challenges that go "beyond any single nation or conflict." Romney the businessman sounds frustrated that it took the perennially inefficient U.S. government so long — and so many lost American lives — to recognize the real threat that the Islamist extremists pose.
As a "true conservative," Romney tops his priority list with increasing spending (he actually uses the word "investment") on national defense — to a minimum of four percent of GDP (although, obviously, his heart is with Ronald Reagan’s six percent reached in 1986). But having said money, Romney immediately smells the rat of government’s irresponsibility, and he proceeds with the diatribe:
"Increased spending should not mean increased waste, however. A team of private-sector leaders and defense experts should carry out a stem-to-stern analysis of military purchasing. Accounts need to be thoroughly scrutinized to eliminate excessive contractor and supplier charges …"
What an attention to detail: a presidential candidate fighting "excessive contractor and supplier charges" in a foreign policy piece!
Romney’s number two item is to make the United States "energy independent." Here, unfortunately, the sense of precision abandons the CEO. While his reasoning for being "energy independent" can please any Republican (" … we [should] end our strategic vulnerability to oil shutoffs by nations such as Iran, Russia, and Venezuela …"), Romney’s prescription for "energy independence" ("We need to initiate a bold … research initiative … that will be our generation’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon") looks like coming off the pages by John Edwards.
Then it’s getting even worse: showing that he isn’t completely immune to the poisonous atmosphere of "green" Massachusetts, Romney falls as low as to uttering:
" … we may well be able to rein in our greenhouse emissions."
Hopefully, potential Romney’s Republican primary voters will not read the article!
The third item on the Romney’s foreign policy business plan is the reorganization/consolidation of what he calls "our international nonmilitary resources," a slew of government agencies responsible for different aspects of foreign relation activities. Here, Romney completely runs out of "international" gas and returns to the comfortable zone of criticizing the government’s inefficiency. For him, the most pressing issue of the Iraq war is not what the American troops are doing there. Rather, Romney seems to be mostly concerned about how efficiently $7 billion of budget money per months is being spent. Remember "excessive contractor and supplier charges"?
Romney somewhat rebounds when discussing the last item on his list: strengthening and revitalizing the U.S.’ partnerships and alliances around the world. Being highly critical of the UN, because, surprise, of its inefficiency, Romney nevertheless suggests reforming the organization rather than simply ignoring it — or even leaving it completely — as his many Republican colleagues would instinctively propose.
In fact, Romney comes up with quite interesting idea: to create what he calls the Partnership for Prosperity and Progress, a coalition of developed countries pouring their resources into economic and social developments in moderate Muslim states. Pointing to the success of the Marchall Plan in the revival of post-WWII Europe, Romney argues that engagement rather than isolation of non-radical Islamic regimes has a better chance at the liberalization of the Middle East.
Whether he’s correct or not, Romney’s approach seems to be much more credible than that advocated by John Edwards: pouring billions of dollars into small pet projects, a noble endeavor for charitable organizations, but hardly something that the U.S. government should get involved in.
In summary: of all Republican presidential candidates, Romney appears to be the only one who promotes foreign agenda based on common sense and "corporate" understanding of the U.S. national interest. The Romney’s White House may become as non-ideological and pragmatic — and, almost sure, more professional — as the current Washington’s atmosphere of partisanship and mediocrity would allow.