Though Mitt Romney has no foreign policy experience beyond running the Olympics, he is staking his potential political redemption on the idea that he can make America safer. At a speech in San Diego to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting, Romney stated that, “The results of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama foreign policy have been devastating.” His arguments on Iraq and Russia from 2012 have been vindicated, he claims.
Romney’s advisors have been talking up how tough he would be as President; “There wouldn’t be an ISIS at all, and Putin would know his place in life.” Based on this tough talk, we should expect foreign policy—and this idea that Romney has been redeemed by global events—to figure prominently in a campaign if he chooses to launch one.
However, Romney has little to contribute in terms of ideas about our nation’s place in the world as it looks to the future. A presidential campaign that is intended to outline a forward-looking strategy and Romney has no vision for a foreign policy that he would bring to the White House. As much as Romney may boast of how he would have been a better President, this is the electoral version of Monday-morning quarterbacking. Romney is not someone with a coherent vision for what he would do as President. As Peggy Noonan noted, “There is no such thing as Romneyism and there never will be. Mr. Romney has never encompassed a philosophical world.” “Romneyism,” she concluded, is just “Mitt should be president.” On foreign policy, Romney may have had tons of advisors but he didn’t articulate new ideas for our foreign policy. Now, the redemption that Romney is claiming on Russia and Iraq is a false one.
Romney’s hyping of Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe” was hyperbolic and it assumed that Putin had far more of a strategy than he did. The reality is that Russia has been brought to its knees. Its economy is in shambles as the ruble loses its value because of U.S. sanctions and declining oil prices.
To give a sense of how impossible it was to predict such an outcome, in November, a senior Russian banking official said, “We couldn’t imagine what’s happening in our worst nightmare even a year ago.”
Instead, the recent humbling of the Russian economy confirms the accuracy of Obama’s stance in describing Russia as a “regional power” that operates from a position of weakness. The collapsing Russian economy is proof that Obama’s strategy is working.
On Iraq, Romney is seeking to claim that he would have kept a residual force in Iraq and prevented the rise of ISIS. Yet unless we are simply to believe that his background at Bain would have made him a better negotiator with Maliki, there is little to this claim. Romney did oppose the troop withdrawal from Iraq and the maintenance of a residual force but so did many members of the administration; including Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton. While Romney said that the fault lied with the administration, it was Maliki who rejected the Status of Forces Agreement continuation. The Obama administration was placed in this position because in December 2008 President Bush had, after difficultly negotiating with Maliki, signed a status of forces agreement with a 2012 expiration.
Specifics are hard to find. Romney never outlined what he would have been able to do differently and certainly has not put forward any evidence, as one of his advisors claimed, that “ISIS wouldn’t exist” if he were President. On Iraq, Romney understood some of the problems but he offered no new ideas on how he would do better. This is the luxury of his position as a critic with no foreign policy record that we can examine.
The truth is that Romney is not running because he has a vision for our nation’s foreign policy; he is running because he doesn’t know how to accept that his candidacy has already been rejected. Michael Ignatieff, one of the world’s foremost political philosophers and a failed candidate for Prime Minister in Canada, said that candidates who “enjoyed success outside of politics, in academia or journalism or business, [often] go into politics with the reasonable assumption that the prestige they achieved in their former profession should automatically transfer into politics. It doesn’t.” Romney has always been confused about why Americans don’t support him and he assumes that his success in business entitles him to a position on the national stage. “People who think they’re entitled to standing—because they are brainy, rich, or famous—almost always lose,” Ignatieff concluded.
If Romney ultimately decides to jump in the race, we will no doubt hear a great deal about how he was right on these important foreign policy questions. Some supporters may even claim that he is a Nostradamus for our era. The reality is that Romney has offered little vision for what his foreign policy would look like and once you dig a bit deeper, his redemption story is a hollow one.