Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney chose the 10th anniversary of the Bush administration's post-9/11 Afghanistan invasion to deliver the first major foreign policy speech of his 2012 campaign. With Romney hoping to set himself apart from President Obama, his speech was almost as much of a reminder of President George W. Bush's policies as the anniversary itself.
Channeling the well-worn Republican theme of "American exceptionalism," Romney's plan, as outlined Friday at the Citadel in South Carolina, centers on a proactive approach to foreign policy. [See our collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]
"This century must be an American century. In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world," Romney said. "America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will."
He spoke of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and warned of the dangers of regimes with "anti-American visions" like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. His policy will also be guided by a belief that "America must promote open markets, representative government, and respect for human rights."
More like Bush and unlike the more libertarian wing of his party, he also suggested a willingness to keep defense budgets high, bulking up the U.S. Navy by speeding up the pace of shipbuilding from nine ships a year to 15. In his first 100 days in the Oval Office, he would reverse cuts passed under Obama on national missile defense too. [Read more about defense cuts.]On Afghanistan, Romney repeated his view that decisions about troops should be made by military leaders on the ground, rather than by Washington. He plans to issue a review of the Afghanistan transition upon taking office. "The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics," he said.
Romney seemed most eager to attack Obama's recent foreign policy, echoing the criticism in Washington regarding the president's lack of clarity and vision. "It is far too easy for a president to jump from crisis to crisis, dealing with one hot spot after another. But to do so is to be shaped by events rather than to shape events," Romney said. "To avoid this paralyzing seduction of action rather than progress, a president must have a broad vision of the world coupled with clarity of purpose."
According to his top foreign policy advisors, which include several former Bush administration officials, one thing that contrasts him from both Bush and Obama is his economics-based approach to Latin America, which he says would "contrast the benefits of democracy, free trade, and free enterprise against the material and moral bankruptcy of the Venezuelan and Cuban model." [Read about the pending trade deals in Colombia and Panama.]
While surely his anti-Obama, pro-American message will resonate with lots of Republicans, he might have a harder time winning over the more fiscally-minded segments of the right, like some in the Tea Party or those who prefer a more isolationist strategy, like that espoused by his 2012 foe Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
As for getting supporters of Obama's foreign policy strategy on his side, Romney doesn't seem to care. "If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president," he said. "You have that president today."