During the bruising Republican primary, front-runner Mitt Romney has talked himself into a corner on some key foreign-policy issues. He's going to have to shake the Etch-a-Sketch one more time if he's going to win the election and actually govern as president.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
For Obama’s likeliest flip-flops, click here.
"I will have those military options, I will take those crippling sanctions and put them into place, and I will speak out to the Iranian people of the peril of them becoming nuclear," Romney said. "It’s pretty straight-forward in my view. If Barack Obama is re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change if that’s the case." — 3/4/2012
Romney is going to need to give himself a bit more wiggle room when it comes to the "military option" on Iran as president. He’s enough of a realist that he probably doesn’t want a regional war that will further destabilize the Middle East and drive up global oil prices — any more than Obama does. In any event, American voters have little appetite for yet another conflict with a Muslim country. Nor, for that matter, does the U.S. military.
Even with harsher sanctions in place, Iran will likely continue to press its nuclear luck, and preventing war is going to require enormous patience, tolerance of occasional setbacks, and, yes, a few "lectures" to America’s friends in Israel.
"This is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world’s worst actors, the idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed." — 3/26/2012
Want "crippling" sanctions on Iran? How about international condemnation of the Syrian government? How about reducing U.S. dependence on Pakistan for the war effort in Afghanistan? The road leads through Moscow, and picking a fight with the Kremlin before Romney’s even elected isn’t the best way to start.
There are legitimate criticisms to be made of the Obama administration’s "reset" policy, from the downplaying of human rights violations to concessions on missile defense. But two decades after the end of the Cold War, most Americans don’t see Russia as much of a security threat, and evince little desire to ratchet up tensions with Moscow.
"Candidate Obama talked tough about China’s trade policies; President Obama has whispered about them. China smiles, diverts attention by criticizing the United States, and merrily continues to eat our economic lunch. Who can blame the Chinese for ignoring our timid complaints when the status quo has served them so well?" — Oct. 13, 2011
When it comes to China, American presidential wannabes tend to be lions on the hustings and lambs in office. As Global Times editor Hu Xijin put it, "Over the last 20 years, the China policies of U.S. presidents have always been milder than the threats the same men made on the campaign trail." It seems pretty likely that a president Romney would follow the pattern as well. He’ll probably continue current practices like challenging Chinese trade policies at the WTO, but further action that would jeopardize over $500 billion in annual bilateral trade is pretty unlikely from any leader of the free world, let alone a business-oriented politician like Romney.
"I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become," — Jan. 10, 2012
Europe has served as a convenient and frequent campaign-trail punching bag for Romney, who has accused the president of taking "his inspiration from the capitals of Europe" rather than the small towns of America. While the Old World may be diminished in geopolitical clout, coordinating with the likes of Berlin, Brussels, and Paris will still be necessary on issues ranging from the global financial crisis to Iran sanctions. But with some European leaders openly declaring their preference for a second Obama term, a President Romney would have to work hard indeed to win over the EU’s heavy hitters.
"The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here." — Jan. 24, 2012
"I’ll also complete the fence, I’ll make sure we have enough Border Patrol agents to secure the fence, and I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers." — Feb. 24, 2012
Romney’s been all over the map on immigration, but he likely knows that "completing the fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border is both logistically infeasible and unlikely to completely halt the flow of illegal immigration, not to mention that "self-deportation" programs have met with little success in the past.
It might be a bit far-fetched to expect Romney to become America’s "first Latino president," but if he wants his party to continue winning elections, he can’t afford to permanently alienate Latinos — the country’s fastest-growing ethnic group. There are signs that Romney is already moving to the center on immigration, attacking the president for not enacting comprehensive reform, perhaps under the influence of his latest high-profile endorser and potential VP, Marco Rubio.
"[O]ne of the things we have to do with our foreign aid commitments, the ongoing foreign aid commitments, I agree with Governor Perry. You start everything at zero." — Nov. 13, 2011
Zeroing out foreign aid is a non-starter as a real-world policy, not just because it makes Israel supporters very nervous. As none other than Rick Santorum has pointed out, aid — even to often uncooperative countries like Pakistan — is a necessary element of diplomacy for a superpower looking to influence policies in smaller, poorer countries. At less than 1 percent of the federal budget, it’s also a relatively cheap tool compared with military force. While foreign aid is a popular target for candidates, there’s a reason why every Republican president since Eisenhower has defended aid programs. Not to mention the fact that much of the aid the United States gives out is based on multiyear agreements that can’t just be shunted aside by a new president.
"My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us." — 10/28/2011
Romney has pirouetted almost 180 degrees on this issue. In his most recent book, he wrote that he believes climate change is occurring and that "human activity is a contributing factor." As governor of Massachusetts, he supported stricter regulation on carbon emissions. In any case, the United States has already made international agreements on climate change that the new president will be under international pressure to abide by. And sooner or later, the evidence of the damage wrought by climate change may become dramatic enough that he won’t be able to ignore it out of political expediency.
No wonder a number of high-profile supporters of cap-and-trade legislation have donated to Romney, evidently assuming that once in office, he will change his tune once again.