Mitt Romney’s just-published book, “No Apology: The Case For American Greatness,” is a bid to bolster the former Massachusetts governor’s nonexistent national-security and foreign policy portfolio ahead of a possible 2012 presidential run. But a glance through the remarkable conflation of conservative shibboleths, paranoid global fantasies and deterministic myopia in “No Apology” makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the perennial GOP candidate might have been better off saying nothing at all.
Romney’s central contention is that there are four “strategies” for global power: the United States’ blend of benevolent, market-based hegemony; the Chinese model of political autocracy and unrestrained industry; Russia’s energy-based path to resurgence; and the “violent jihadists,” an agglutination of scary Muslims. Trouble in paradise, according to Romney, comes from President Obama’s “presupposition” that “America is in a state of inevitable decline.” As a result, Romney must warn the nation to continue to lead the world, lest one or more of these competitors overtake America. “[T]here can be no rational denial of the reality that America is a decidedly good nation,” writes Romney, or perhaps a third grader. “Therefore, it is good for America to be strong.”
[Security1]So many things are wrong with Romney’s view of an imperiled America that it is difficult to know where to begin. First, the idea that the U.S. is locked in a struggle for global supremacy with “violent jihadists” overlooks the exponential differences in economic resources, military strength, and global appeal between America and an increasingly imperiled band of Waziristan-based acolytes of Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda can attack us; it cannot displace the U.S. as a global leader. It manufactures nothing, trades with no one, and has absolutely nothing to offer anyone except like-minded conspiratorial murderers. In order to disguise these glaring asymmetries, Romney has to use an empty term — “the jihadists” — which he cannot rigorously define and with which he means to absorb the vastly different aims and ambitions of rival terrorist groups and separate nations like Iran.
“Violent jihadist groups come in many stripes across a spectrum,” Romney writes, “from Hamas to Hezbollah, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda.” But al-Qaeda exists because it considered the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt too accommodating of the Egyptian government; Hamas has literally fought al-Qaeda attempts at penetrating the Gaza Strip; and Sunni al-Qaeda released a videotape just this weekend that derides “Rejectionist Shiite Hezbollah.” There is absolutely nothing that unites these organizations in any programmatic manner except Romney’s ignorance, and the expansion of ignorance is insufficient to topple an American superpower.
The comparison between American and Russian or Chinese global power is less obviously stupid than between that of the “violent jihadists.” But that is not saying much. The amalgamation of Wikipedia-level facts about Chinese economic and military growth and renewed Russian assertiveness “No Apology” provides does little more than demonstrate that the Chinese are modernizing and the Russians again desire a prominent global position. But the U.S.’s military advantage over the Russians and the Chinese is massive, and will remain massive for decades. In 2008 alone, the U.S. spent over $700 billion on its military. China spent $122 billion and Russia spent $70 billion. At one point in the text, Romney is forced to concede that the Council on Foreign Relations wrote that until at least 2030 there is “no evidence to support the notion that China will become a peer military competitor of the United States.” He waves away that inconvenient fact:
On the other hand, Afghanistan fighters were certainly not a peer military with the Soviet Union, yet they defeated the Soviets — not globally of course, but certainly in Afghanistan.
One could conclude from this analogy that the lesson for the U.S., then, is not to invade and occupy China.
There are two salient global facts Romney never considers in his book. The first is that it is actually possible to obtain positive-sum relations with rising powers. The rise of China does not have to equal the decline of the United States. If, as Romney argues — following Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer — decline is a choice, so is permanent international competition. The concept of diplomacy is completely foreign to Romney. He dismisses the State Department as “assistant secretaries and… bureaucrats” and proposes designating regional relations to “one individual” who would become a “presidential envoy or the ambassador from CENTCOM or any of the other regional military commands.” Such an individual would “encourage people and politicians to adopt and abide by the principles of liberal democracy,” something that “would be ideal if other allied nations created similar regional positions, and if we coordinated our efforts with theirs.” That’s it for diplomacy, and he doesn’t have an agenda for global development. Why the world will simply do what America says simply because America says it is something Romney never bothers to consider. High school students at model U.N. conferences have proposed less ludicrous ideas.
The second concept Romney ignores is international institutions. He has practically nothing to say about the network of international institutions and regional alliances the U.S. engages with, from the United Nations to the G-20 to NATO to ASEAN to the IMF and World Bank. These institutions, occasionally the object of scorn from the right (the U.N.) and the left (the IMF), are permanent fixtures in international relations — fora for both international competition and cooperation. Romney has nothing to say about them — except for the invocation that NATO nations ought to spend more on defense — which might help explain why he views global power as a zero-sum competition.
That absence could be explained by the typical conservative hostility to anything resembling diplomacy or multilateralism. But there is a more surprising absence in “No Apology”: the Afghanistan war. Romney has absolutely nothing to say about a conflict in which 100,000 U.S. troops are committed, and which he would most likely inherit should he win the presidency in 2012. He proposes expanding the counterinsurgency capabilities of the military, but manages to say absolutely nothing about what they ought to do in Afghanistan, except for the content-free platitude that “we must draw upon the resources of our entire military.”
Romney himself never served, and his unfamiliarity with military issues is evident in “No Apology.” He proposes adding “at least 100,000 soldiers to the army and the marines” (Marines are not soldiers) and spending “at least 4 percent” of GDP on the military without explaining why. Why not 5, 10, 15 percent? Not only does Romney not discuss what to do in the actual conflict America fights, he can’t articulate why his proposals adequately resource the strategies he advocates. Most likely, he has been given a set of position papers from conservative think tanks and allowed a ghostwriter to weave them into something approaching a narrative. (Romney credits the conservative foreign-policy analysts Dan Senor, Pete Wehner, Mitchell Reiss and the Kagan family for some of the ideas that he presents.)
What he also barely articulates is his contempt for President Obama. Somehow Obama’s hypothetical out-year defense budget cuts to 3 percent of GDP — hypothetical because they are projections — leave the nation vulnerable to attack, but ticking that spending up to 4 percent of GDP (it’s at 3.7 percent now) means everything will be copacetic. That might be the most reality-based that Romney’s description of Obama’s approach of foreign affairs actually is. He imagines Obama taking an “American Apology Tour,” a staple talking point on the right to describe Obama’s 2009 trips abroad in which the president showed a conciliatory face to foreign leaders and publics. It is telling that Romney produces not a single quote from Obama deriding America, protecting himself from the inevitable charge of caricaturing Obama by saying the president, “always the skillful politician, will throw in compliments about America here and there.” The dishonesty of that statement is demonstrated by the most cursory glance at Obama’s major foreign speeches, from Prague (“Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century”) to Cairo (“America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God”) to Oslo (“Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms”). Romney is offended by Obama’s U.N. speech that “power is no longer a zero-sum game,” writing, “that by necessity means America does not have the ability to maintain a dominant position in the world.” Any first-year logic student can correct Romney on that.
Romney has little choice but to caricature Obama. The president’s foreign-policy record so far is one of increased relations with Pakistan that have finally yielded Pakistani arrests of Afghan Taliban leaders; a commitment to resourcing and waging the Afghanistan war capably; the effective international isolation of Iran over its nuclear program (thanks in part to improved relations with Romney’s Chinese and Russian bogeymen); and a so-far cautious drawdown of military forces in Iraq. If Romney has a problem with any of this, he does not say — but because he cannot credibly gain purchase with a suspicious Republican Party that repudiated him in the 2008 primaries without bashing Obama, he must attack the version of Obama that exists in his mind. It’s telling that Romney’s actual proposals to expand counterinsurgency efforts in the military, strengthen cybersecurity initiatives and build a more effective missile-defense system are all initiatives that the current administration has pursued. For all of Romney’s imagination, paranoia, ignorance and invective, he has managed to build a foreign-policy doctrine in “No Apology” that, at its most substantive, can be charitably called Obama Lite. If he ultimately runs for president, he may find himself before GOP audiences apologizing for it.