Daniel W. Drezner

Grading Mitt Romney’s foreign policy white paper

As I noted previously, compared to his GOP rivals, Mitt Romney has some actual foreign policy thinking going on.  On the other hand, as Dan Trombly points out, doing better than Herman Cain or Rick Perry is a really low bar.  So, looked at objectively, what’s my assessment of Romney’s foreign policy white paper?  I ...

As I noted previously, compared to his GOP rivals, Mitt Romney has some actual foreign policy thinking going on.  On the other hand, as Dan Trombly points out, doing better than Herman Cain or Rick Perry is a really low bar.  So, looked at objectively, what’s my assessment of Romney’s foreign policy white paper

I could go through it line by line, but James Joyner already did that for The Atlantic.  As it turns out, I’m reaching a course called The Art and Science of Statecraft that will require students to write a grand strategy document.  Sooo…. if Mitt Romney was one of my students, how would I grade him?  See below:



You and your study team have clearly put a lot of work into "An American Century."  It’s cogently written and organized.  Your basic statement of purpose — "advance an international system that is congenial to the institutions of open markets, representative government, and respect for human rights (p. 7)" — fits perfectly within the mainstream of American foreign policy thinking. You’ve done an excellent job of demonstrating an awareness of the complexity of threats that face the United States in the 21st century.  I liked it on p. 6 when you noted that:

In the highly dynamic realm of national security and foreign policy there are seldom easy answers. Discrete circumstances in disparate regions of the world demand different kinds of approaches. There is no silver bullet for the problem of securing the United States and protecting our interests around the world.

You’ve also demonstrated an appropriate awareness that American power rests on more than a strong military.  When you note that a Romney administration would "apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict (p. 8)," I caught myself nodding along.  

Some of the details are intriguing as well.  I need to look more into these "Reagan economic zones" that you mention a lot, but applying them to Latin America and the Pacific Rim make a great deal of strategic and economic sense.  I’m not fully persuaded that your notion of creating regional envoys to organize all "soft power resources" is all that different from the foreign policy czars or special envoys of administrations past, but this kind of argument fits well with your management background. 

That said, there are some logical flaws and major gaps in this draft that will have to be corrected if you want to earn a better grade.  The first problem is the style.  I recognize that you’ve written this as a campaign document, so you’re never going to completely eliminate the unadulterated horsheshit allegations about the current president going on an apology tour.  Maybe you could do it a bit more subtly in the future, however? 

Secondly, there’s a lack of historical awareness in some parts of the document.  For example, on page 7 the paper says:

[A] Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. The United States will  clearly enunciate its interests and values. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we  stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs; neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries.

Now, reading this, I kept thinking back to the Bush administration and its repeated assetions that that there would be no hypocrisy in foreign affairs.  Much like Bush, reality turned out to be trickier.  I suspect you know this, from the other excerpts noted earlier.  So get rid of this fluff:  I’m sure statements like this play well in a management consulting boardroom, but it’s not going to cut it in the real world. 

Similarly, for someone who says that, the Obama administration is "undermining one’s allies (p. 3)" in contrast to you, who will "reassure our allies (p. 13)", you don’t actually talk about America’s treaty allies much at all.  True, you do talk about expanding America’s alliance system to include India and Indonesia.  Mexico gets some face time.  Israel gets a lot of face time.  On the other hand, NATO is not mentioned once in this entire document.  Neither is the European Union.  Japan and South Korea get perfunctory treamtment at best.  Turkey is a major treaty ally but you treat it like a pariah state.  For someone who’s claiming that the U.S. will reassure its major allies, you didn’t seem to give them much attention at all.  This is a really important problem, because Japan and Europe have been crucial allies in a lot of major American initiatives — and they’re getting weaker.  Even in discussing new possible allies, I’m kind of gobsmacked that Brazil is never mentioned. 

Another big problem is that your approach to China is so shot full of contradictions that I don’t know where to begin.  Do you seriously believe what you wrote on p. 3: 

The easiest way… to become embroiled in a clash with China over Taiwan, or because of China’s ambitions in the South or East China Seas, will be to leave Beijing in doubt about the depth of our commitment to longstanding allies in the region.

Really?  See, I’d say the easiest way to get embroiled in a clash with China is to write Taiwan a blank check on their defense needs.  The second easiest would be to publicly bluster on about Taiwan to a Chinese leadership that feels increasingly insecure and will be tempted to stoke the fires of Chinese nationalism by creating another Quemoy and Matsu crisis. 

Furthermore, you talk explicitly about supplying Taiwan with "adequate aircraft and other military platforms (p. 18)" in supposed contrast to the Obama administration.  You also talk about strengthening relationships with other countries that neighbor China in an effort to preserve American dominance.  Now, this might be a bit provocative, but I get the rationale.  Here’s the thing, though — you can’t simultaneously do this and assert that you will "work to persuade China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament (p. 29)."  Really?  How exactly are you gonna persuade them on this point?   Do you really think that arming Taiwan to the teeth and blasting its human rights record will do the trick? 

If the section on China is contradictory, then your discussion of Pakistan is worse.  You state on p. 31-32:

It is in the interests of all three nations to see that Afghanistan and the Afghanistan/ Pakistan border region are rid of the Taliban and other insurgent groups…. Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan’s security and intelligence forces must be severed. The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it. 

There are at least two assertions in the quoted section that are highly dubious — I’ll let you find them on your own.   

One final point, should you choose to revise this draft strategy — you need to prioritize the threats you discuss in the paper.  You list a whole bunch of them — rising authoritarian states, transnational violence, failing states, and rogue states.  If you have to prioritize, which threats merit greater attention?  This should actually be pretty easy, since you absurdly overhype the threats posed by some of these countries (Venezuela, Cuba and Russia in particular). 

I look forward to reviewing your later work. 

Grade:  B

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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