Special Report

Mitt Romney’s Foreign Policy

Former governor of Massachusetts

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Foreign-policy credentials: As chairman of the organizing committee of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Romney was credited with financially rescuing the scandal-tarnished event and restoring — for a time — the reputation of the International Olympic Committee. He lived abroad as a Mormon missionary in France while in college, and like Barack Obama before him, Romney has made a few campaign stops in Europe this time around.  

Overview: As one might expect from the primary front-runner and favorite for the nomination, Romney has stayed clear of controversial positions and doesn’t deviate much from the Republican Party’s standard talking points. He’s in favor of robust defense spending, strong ties with Israel, bulking up border security, and getting tough with China.

As a former governor, Romney has virtually no official experience implementing foreign policy, but having gone through the primary process in 2008, he may be more prepared to handle tough national security questions.

Advisors: Romney has lined up a team of GOP national security heavyweights, including former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Senators Jim Talent and Norm Coleman, and author Robert Kagan. Mideast advisor Walid Phares has proved a somewhat controversial pick, due to his past association with Christian militia groups during the Lebanese Civil War.

On the Issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: Romney shocked many party insiders with his remarks on Afghanistan during the June 14 debate. "It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can — as soon as our generals think it’s OK," Romney said. "One lesson we’ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence."

Of course, Romney’s frequent reference to the advice of generals leaves him quite a bit of wiggle room on the question of when a drawdown should begin. He has attacked the current administration’s position, saying, "I don’t know of a single military advisor to President Obama who recommended the withdrawal plan that he’s chosen, and that puts the success of our soldiers and our mission at greater risk."

Romney would continue the policy of drone strikes on terrorist targets within Pakistan, but is less willing to attack the country than some other candidates, saying he would "work with our friends in that country to get them to do some of the things we can’t do ourselves." He describes the country as "close to being a failed state."  

Military spending: Romney has called for an additional $30 billion in military spending, including increasing active-duty forces by 100,000 troops. "If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president," is a common campaign refrain.  

Immigration/borders: Romney has promised a tough stand on immigration, including "completing construction of a high-tech fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border. In debates, he has criticized fellow candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his "soft" stance on the issue, including state programs that provide benefits to the children of illegal immigrants. Romney’s record on the issue is not quite as uncompromising as he suggests: His signature Massachusetts health-care law allows undocumented migrants to receive virtually free care.

Israel/Palestine: Romney argues that Obama "threw Israel under the bus by laying out his view of the policies he thought Israel should adopt in the peace process," particularly the president’s May 2011 suggestion of a return to the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations. Romney has promised to take "actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders" and doesn’t believe that the United States should "play the role of the leader of the peace process," instead following "the guidance of our ally Israel."

China: While denying that he seeks a trade war, Romney has pledged to more aggressively stand up to China on its trade practices and what he calls currency manipulation. "China seeks advantage through systematic exploitation of other economies," he has written. "Who can blame the Chinese for ignoring our timid complaints when the status quo has served them so well?"

Foreign aid: Romney has proposed cutting $100 million from the $1.4 billion U.S. foreign aid budget. "I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid," he argues.

Iran/nukes: Romney has described Iran as a "suicidal" nation and "the greatest immediate threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union, and before that, Nazi Germany." He has called for "comprehensive, withering sanctions" against the Islamic Republic as well as support for domestic opposition groups within the country, arguing that the Obama administration’s "charm offensive" will not be enough to stop the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Trade: Romney has attacked the Obama administration for being slow to push for passage of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. "Despite the fact that trade is good for us, over the last few years our nation has been asleep at the switch," he says.

War on terror/detainees: Romney once famously promised to "double Guantánamo" during a 2008 primary debate. He has stuck with his support for keeping the facility open and allowing so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques to be used on terrorism suspects, writing that it is "laughable to suggest that Guantanamo is a meaningful aid in terrorist recruiting."

Environment: Romney claimed in October that "we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet," an almost direct reversal of his earlier position that "I believe that humans contribute to [warming]." He has, in the past, called for increased investments in green energy, and as governor, he supported a carbon-trading scheme for Northeastern states, though he has drifted away from his support for carbon caps.

Russia/reset: Romney has repeatedly and strongly criticized the "reset" policy, arguing that Vladimir Putin is intent on "rebuilding the Russian empire." He opposes cuts to missile defense and argues that "letting people into WTO who intend to cheat is obviously a mistake."

Arab Spring: Romney has been broadly supportive of democratic transitions in the region, but says that the Arab Spring is "out of control in some respects because the president was not as strong as he needed to be in encouraging our friends to move toward representative forms of government."

Other issues: Romney has been strongly critical of cuts to U.S. missile defense, in particular the New START nuclear-reductions agreement with Russia. In a July 2010 Washington Post op-ed, he wrote that the treaty "impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferating rogue states such as Iran and North Korea."

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