Mitt Romney, Republican hopeful for the 2012 American Presidential election, arrived on Wednesday in London. This will open his European and Middle East tour for the next several days. Mr. Romney is scheduled to spend several days in London, for the opening of the Olympic games, then fly to Poland, and conclude his foreign trip in Israel. The choice of countries is very disappointing and quite Romneyesque, only stay on friendly ground.
What should be the expectations of his European tour? What does that tell us about Mitt Romney’s foreign policy? How would the transatlantic relations look like under a Romney’s presidency?
The expectation of the European and Middle East tour is simple: raising money with friends and allies abroad and strengthening ties with the world financial elite. John Nichols of The Nation, a weekly magazine considered the “flagship of the left,” wrote “the presidential contender is officially in London to cheer on the US team in the Olympics. But Romney doesn’t always cheer for Team USA. When it comes to global economics, Romney remains very much the “vulture capitalist” his Republican primary foes decried. And tonight, he’ll be swooping into central London to party with masters of the universe who know no country — and, it would appear, no ethical bounds.”
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy, which is absolutely unclear as he has refused to lay out any sort of general guidelines outside the fact that he would do everything differently than President Obama. However, experts have speculated that a Romney’s presidency would look like Bush’s foreign policy – exceptionalist and universalist, what is now known as neoconservatism – considering his choice of advisers. In a recent blog on Foreign Policy Magazine, Stephen Walt wrote a piece about the 10 questions that he would love to ask Mitt Romney, here is a selection:
#3. In your opinion, why is President Obama still so popular overseas, including most American allies? In your speech, you said the United States must “nurture our alliances,” and you asserted that “the president has moved in the opposite direction.” To illustrate this, you accused him of the “sudden abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech republic,” based on Obama’s decision to deploy missile defenses in a different configuration. Yet sixty percent of the Polish population opposed having missile defenses on their territory, and the percentage of Poles with a “favorable” view of the United States is higher in 2012 than it was in 2008 (under Bush) or in 2009 (right after Obama’s election). For that matter, Obama remains a remarkably popular leader around the world. How do you explain this?
#7. Is there any real difference between you and President Obama on Afghanistan? President Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. In your speech to the VFW, you said “my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces in 2014.” Maybe I’m missing something, but that sounds identical to Obama’s plan. You also said you would “evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders.” What conditions would lead you to keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014?
#10. Now I’d like to ask you a hypothetical question. Suppose your good friend John McCain had been elected in 2008, and that he had followed the same foreign and defense policy that President Obama has pursued. Would you still be so critical? To be a bit more specific, imagine that McCain had expanded the use of drone strikes in several places, increased U.S. military strength in the Far East to balance China, located and killed Osama bin Laden, increased military cooperation with Israel and protected it from international censure after Operation Cast Lead and the raid on the Mavi Marmara, orchestrated the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi, ended the war in Iraq according to the terms negotiated by President Bush, tightened global sanctions against Iran, and launched an accelerated global effort to improve nuclear security. If McCain had done all that, wouldn’t you be defending his actions, and boasting about how it showed that the GOP was much better on national security issues?
Mitt Romney has not discussed so far his approach to transatlantic relations, his vision on the role of NATO, and how he would interact with his European partners
in order to discuss on the Eurozone crisis, and so on. But so far not good. The day of his arrival in London Mitt Romney managed to criticize his British counterpart on the poor management of the Olympics. He claimed during an interview with NBC in London “There were a few things that were disconcerting – the stories about the private security firm [G4S] not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is something which is not encouraging.”
After his London tour, he will be flying to Poland. His meeting with Polish officials could very much have a negative impact on the relations between Russia and the U.S., and Russia and NATO. Poland, which is scheduled to host part of the missile shield, has been a vocal state against Russia. Thus, Mitt Romney has reiterated that Russia was the “No.1 geopolitical foe.” This was a surprise considering that Russia has been the weak link of the BRIC. Using his tour in Poland in order to start some Putin’s bashing will not be constructive and would require another “reset button.” Thus, he is scheduled to meet with Lech Walesa, an iconic figure of the end of the Cold War. Russia, especially President Putin, loves confrontation with the West and never missed an opportunity to challenge and criticized the US. In his editorial titled Romney takes cold warrior message abroad, Mr. Geoff Dyer claimed “the irony is that the one person quite happy with the Romney Cold War echoes is, of course, Mr. Putin.”
The last segment of his trip will be Israel. Mitt Romney’s visit of Israel will combine fundraising dinners and high-level meetings. During his speech in Reno to the Veterans of Foreign Wars several days ago, Romney declared “since I wouldn’t venture into another country to question American foreign policy, I will tell you right here — before I leave — what I think of this administration’s shabby treatment of one of our finest friends.” When it comes to the Middle East, simply going to Israel gives a clear signal of the types of foreign policy Mr. Romney envisions for the region. A visit of Libya or even Iraq could have sent a stronger message domestically and give a hint to his approach in dealing with states in transition. Strengthening ties with Israel is one thing, but ignoring the region is another.
For a real European tour, Mitt Romney should have stopped in Germany, the only viable economic engine of the Eurozone, and Brussels, meeting with Messrs. Van Rompuy and Barroso. A stop by Paris could have been positive as well in order to strengthen strategic relations with a very active foreign policy country. Undeniably, Mr. Romney and French President Hollande diverged on economic, financial, and social issues. Does that mean that because a foreign elected official diverged politically, Mitt Romney will not address him/her? Aside of its socialist president, France is an important U.S. ally when it comes to military operation. France was axiomatic in Libya and will be in case of a Syrian adventure. France is also in the middle of the drafting of its new White Paper, which will lay out France’s military strategy for the next decade. Discussing threats and cooperation could have strengthened Mitt Romney’s relations with his French counterpart. The transatlantic relations should no simply be perceived as a story of a “special relationship,” but rather as a “family story,” complex.
What does Mitt Romney’s foreign visits tell us? Fundraising and foreign policy are two very distinct activities. Mitt Romney has proven that he is a master in fundraising, and could be considered as one of the first true global fundraisers. However, this tour in Europe is far from giving a sense of his foreign policy and how he will engage his European partners if elected. Money will be raised, questions will remain unanswered. This has been the motto of the 2012 U.S. Presidential campaign. The level of money for the current presidential race is attaining unprecedented level, but the debate on central foreign policy questions has remained nonexistent. But what Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are not taking into consideration so far is that money will certainly offer them the presidency; however, it may not give them a mandate to govern.