Saturday, July 21, 2007

Romney: Innovative Foreign Policy, Kinda

Mitt Romney also wrote a 15 page piece in Foreign Affairs laying out his vision for America's Foreign Policy. He deals largely with the same issues that Barack Obama does, but his policy recommendations are more specific, better thought out, and sometimes, downright creative. A few of his justifications and explanations include a little fear mongering, but otherwise, his policy ideas are rock solid. Here's a blow by blow analysis (if you don't want to read the whole thing, the just read bullet point #7):

1) Obama and Romney both start out their essays by citing great leaders in the past. But while Obama emphasizes the ideological leadership they provided, Romney focuses on how they created new institutions to face the challenges of the Cold War. He cites the creation of the intelligence community, the forging of alliances like NATO, and the formation of agencies like the US Agency for International Development, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. This difference between the candidates is telling. Obama wants to provide intellectual and moral leadership in the fashion of JFK. Romney wants to create a new structure for us to face the challenges of the 21st century, much like Harry Truman did at the beginning of the Cold War.

2) Romney correctly states that walking away now from Iraq would "present grave risks to the United States and the world." Unfortunately he exaggerates some of these risks, trying to incite fear in his readers. He says that in the event of a US withdrawal, "Iran would seize the Shiite south, al Qaeda could dominate the Sunni west, and Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey." What he says about the Sunnis and Kurds is valid. I don't think anybody really thinks that Iran will "seize" the Shiite south. Iraqi Shiites hate the Iranians. Iranians are ethnically different from Iraqis, fought a godawful war with Iraq about 20 years ago (in which about 3 million people died), and don't even speak the same language as the Iraqis. I also think that Iran, as well as anybody with half a brain, has realized that occupying Iraq is a really bad idea. Will Iran exert influence in Iraq? You bet. Seize it? Only a fool would do something like that.

3) He gets into the meat of his arguments by describing how radical Islam is different from our challenges in the past. Here's his first insight: "Understandably, the nation tends to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq, where American men and women are dying. We think in terms of countries because countries were our enemies in the last century's great conflicts...Yet the jihad is much broader than any one nation, or even several nations." This lays the groundwork for his overall idea: that we're geared towards fighting nations, but today's threats are broader than nations, so we need to completely change the way we fight.

4) "It is common to the point of cliche to talk about how much the world has changed since 9/11. Our president led a dramatic response to the events of that day and has taken action to protect the US homeland. Yet if one looks at our tools of national power, what is surprising is not how much has changed since then but how little." You see where he's going: the TOOLS of national power need to changed dramatically.

5) He structures his recommendations around four pillars. His first one is an uncreative letdown, and not at all game-changing. He wants to increase defense spending and increase the size of the military. He also wants to strengthen the economy through "policies such as smaller government, lower taxes, better schools and health care, greater investment in technology, and the promotion of free trade, while maintaining the strength of America's families, values, and moral leadership." This isn't really an idea. This is just him trying to pander to the Republican base, painting himself as the traditional conservative candidate. About the only interesting point in all of that is that he is an advocate of free trade. But it's still hard to tell if he means any of it.

6) His second pillar isn't super interesting either, and has to do with making the US more energy independent. He wants America to use energy more efficiently, invest in renewable sources like ethanol, and drill in Alaska. It's a pretty standard Republican view. He also says he wants to "initiate a bold, far-reaching research initiative - an energy revolution - that will be our generation's equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon." But he's awfully vague on the scope or structure of this initiative.

7) His third pillar makes my spine tingle. I'm just going to quote him; commentary isn't really necessary. "We need to dramatically and fundamentally transform our civilian capabilities to promote peace, security, and freedom around the world. After World War II, America created capabilities and structures - such as the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development - to meet the challenges of a world that was radically different from that of the 1930s. In the Reagan era, the Goldwater-Nichols Act helped tear down bureaucratic boundaries that were undermining our military effectiveness, fostered unified efforts across military services, and established 'joint commands,' with an individual commander fully responsible for everything going on within his or her geographic region." He continues, "Today, there is no such unity among our international nonmilitary resources. There is no clear leadership and no clear line of authority....For instance, even as we face the need to strengthen the democratic underpinnings of a country such as Lebanon, our resources in education, health, banking, energy, commerce, law enforcement, and diplomacy are spread across separate bureaucracies...As a result, we have had to look on as Hezbollah has brought health care and schools to areas of Lebanon. And guess who the people followed when the conflict between Israel and Lebanon broke out last summer? Likewise, the popularity of Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank should be no surprise given that the group has provided Palestinians with the basic services that neither the international community nor the Palestinian government could deliver."
"The problem has been just as evident in Iraq....Even as we were taking casualties and spending over $7B a month on the war, US civilian authorities were fighting over which agency was going to pay their employees' $11 daily food allowance." Ok Mitt, so what do we do?
"Just as the military has divided the world into regional theatres for all of its branches, the work of our civilian agencies should be organized along common geographic boundaries. For every region, one civilian leader should have authority over and responsibility for all the relevant agencies and departments...These new leaders would be heavy hitters, with names that are recognized around the world. They should have independent objectives, budgets, and oversight. Their performance should be evaluated according to their success in promoting America's political, military, diplomatic, and economic interests in their respective regions...."
Wow. This would probably be the most dramatic government restructuring in the history of the country.
Think about what it means. Our civilian operations would no longer be grouped by function, but by region. That means that every single region would control their own development agencies, health agencies, diplomats, and maybe even their own spies. Let's zoom in and examine what this would mean for the State Department in particular:
There would no longer be a Secretary of State. Instead, diplomacy would be run by the civilian commander of each region, who I imagine would hold a cabinet level position. There would still be ambassadors, but they would report to their regional commander. Recruitment and training would still happen under one agency, much like everyone in the army goes through the same training.
Think about a scenario: say, a budding democracy movement in Lebanon. The Middle East Director could send diplomats to Damascus to tell the Syrians to get the fuck out of Lebanon, at the same time he could send diplomats to Israel to tell them "Do not attack Lebanon, or we will cut off aid to you," at the same time send humanitarian aid and economic aid to bolster the new Lebanese government, at the same time start setting up schools and hospitals in Lebanon to compete with Hezbollah's social services, and at the same time organize a regional conference with all Arab countries to discuss Lebanon's future. Powerful. That's the only word to describe that idea.
Hard to implement, but so powerful.

8) His fourth pillar involves strengthening our alliances and leveraging them to confront challenges like terrorism, genocide and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He says, "If elected, one of my first acts as president would be to call for a summit of nations to address these issues...The objective of the summit would be to create a worldwide strategy to support moderate Muslims in their effort to defeat radical and violent Islam. I envision that the summit would lead to....a coalition of states that would assemble resources from developed nations and use them to support public schools (not Wahhabi madrasahs), microcredit and banking, the rule of law, human rights, basic health care, and free-market policies in modernizing Islamic states." In principle it's a good idea. It will be nearly impossible to come to a consensus, however. For starters, everyone tell the US, "To stop radicalizing Muslims, America has to stop supporting Israel." Romney does have some concrete ideas, however, arguing for freer trade with the Middle East, among other things. One interesting example he brings up is how the US has dismantled the Arab League's boycott of Israel through policies like the Qualified Industrial Zone program, which granted free-trade benefits to Egyptian products that incorporate materials from Israel.

Overall, Romney has a much deeper knowledge of foreign affairs than Obama does, and it shows. The problem with Romney is that he lies so often that it's hard to tell when he actually means what he says. In this case, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because there is very little pressure for him to say anything in particular, so there isn't any reason why he wouldn't just speak his mind.