On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney has faced accusations of being vague about the policies he would pursue as president. Today, in his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, he appeared to deliberately emphasize detail, particularly on defense issues, though some argue that the speech as a whole was itself vague. As he said (transcript available here):
The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916. I will restore our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines. I will implement effective missile defenses to protect against threats. And on this, there will be no flexibility with Vladimir Putin. And I will call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark.
In terms of defense cuts, Mr. Romney’s characterization of the Obama administration’s role in all of this—“deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military”—was notable. I’ve mentioned before the potential for Romney (or really, for anyone who sees an advantage here) to conflate the planned budget cuts that top military leaders support and the cuts that would be brought about by the sequestration.
Mr. Romney also sought to differentiate himself from the Obama administration on several other issue areas, including Egypt, Syria, and Iran, but as was the case before the speech, there remains the perception that the candidates’ foreign policy views are fairly similar. As Wired writer Spencer Ackerman argues:
The differences Romney outlines from Obama tend to shrink under scrutiny. …On Syria, Romney says he’ll “identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need.” But the CIA is on the Turkey-Syrian border trying to sort out which Syrian rebels are worth funneling foreign weapons to — a difficult proposition at best — and, as the New York Times‘ David Sanger points out, Romney stops short of promising American weapons to the rebels.
Of course, others disagree. Also responding to Romney’s Syria comments, Fox News writer Christian Whiton says:
Where Obama has done nothing to help Syrian rebels for want of a permission slip from the UN, Romney would “identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.”
When it comes to probing the differences between President Obama’s and Mr. Romney’s foreign policy platforms, I think that Foreign Policy blogger and Tufts professor Daniel Drezner made a more nuanced effort than most today to explain his own stance:
If one pushes past the overheated rhetoric, then you discover that Romney wants a lot of the same ends as Barack Obama—a stable, peaceful and free Middle East, for example. But that’s not shocking—any major party president will want the same ends. The differen[c]es are in the means through which a president will achieve those ends. And—in op-ed after op-ed, in speech after speech—Romney either elides the means altogether, mentions means that the Obama administration is already using, or just says the word “resolve” a lot. That’s insufficient.
Others find reassurance in Romney’s macro-level vision. Remarking on the speech today, Bush-era USAID official Paul Bonicelli and Foreign Policy contributor argues:
…[Romney] continues to show that he grasps the ugly realities we face in terms of our enemies and the circumstances they manipulate for their good and our harm, and that the United States must lead if we have any hope for success.
While this high-profile foreign policy speech was an important milestone for the Romney campaign,the discussion of the foreign policy differences between the candidates is just beginning: a vice presidential debate and two presidential debates remain.