What Mitt Romney Must Do on Foreign Policy

When Mitt Romney becomes president of the United States, there are several things he needs to do with regards to foreign policy.

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Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Despite how it's being spun, the reason Barack Obama is so overwhelmingly popular with Europeans (he's ahead 90-10 in France) remains because of his "apology tour" just after he took office. And, the reason the Euros like this sort of mea culpa is because—in the natural pecking order of such things—they are far more vulnerable to world economic and political forces than we are. In fact, their attempt at equaling our swag—the European Unionhas all but come apart (economically) mainly because of their vastly different cultural work ethics, North to South: Germans are doing what Germans have always done—work really hard—while France, Italy, Spain and Greece, etc., are, well, really enjoying life.

But such is far more esoteric than the twin purposes of this opinion piece: to predict the outcome of our election and suggest what new directions the Euros—and the rest of the world—can expect as a result of it.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

The easy part: Before the midterm election in 2010 I predicted a Romney victory in 2012. This because of a set of fairly basic American voter demographics that the polls can't, won't, or don't measure. The media? Well, they understand the demographics too, but a "toss up" election sells stuff and makes their talking heads seem more relevant, so that's what they have made it out to be.

Recall that Obama was elected in 2008—as would have been any Democrat who was nominated—primarily because Americans were fed up with the seemingly intractable war in Iraq. We were simply not going to elect a Republican because of it. And so, while hard-core Republicans still voted for Sen. John McCain and hard-core Democrats voted for Obama, what tipped the scales were the various categories and numbers of independents voting for Obama.

For an array of different reasons, this dynamic reversed itself well before the 2010 midterm election (which cost the Democrats the House of Representatives) and continues to strengthen. In fact, I believe the election next month will not be very close, certainly not as close as most predictions. Obama, like Carter will leave after one term (and for many of the same reasons).

[See a collection of political cartoons on the European debt crisis.]

So, assuming I'm right, what can we—including the Euros—expect in the way of "new" influences and directions of our foreign and national security policy with Mitt Romney as our president?

First. There is a serious preliminary and internal problem that the Republicans must address, assuming they will be able to identify it though the traditional political smoke of their "transition team"—and the rampant self-promotion that transition teams entail.

The "internal problem"? Republicans must be very careful whom they select for key national security and foreign policy jobs—else they simply set themselves up recreate the Bush 43 team approach on far too many issues. And, to be painfully accurate in this respect, the "Bush 43 approach" had a great deal in common with the "Clinton approach", which had a great deal in common with the "Bush 41 approach." In fact, with the exception of the Iraq War and the withdrawal from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, there had not been many substantive differences between our administrations up to the Obama administration—insofar as national security and foreign policy was concerned—since Ronald Reagan.  

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Who Won the Obama-Romney Foreign Policy Debate?]

So hopefully, someone senior in the new administration (maybe even Romney himself) will realize the extremely critical requirement for a very "bright line" between where Obama ends and Romney begins. And, this can't be done unless there is some creative "new thinking" (albeit perhaps from some older people) at the beginning of Romney's first term, just as there was at the beginning of Reagan's first term after Jimmy Carter was voted out.

Second. There are several good lists of substantive things that could be done to bring U.S. national security and foreign policy thinking into the strategic realities of the 21st century. And someone, perhaps a senior panel, needs to be looking at these kinds of ideas and assess them for the new administration, while working closely with key leaderships in Congress. Furthermore, and perhaps a "big surprise" here, many of these suggestions are in the eminently "doable" category because they are cost efficient or cost neutral, yet represent major modernizations of our policies.

Third. Our Euro friends (and the rest of the world) need a reminder from time to time that we remain a politically "centrist" country, at least in our own minds. However, in the view of othersespecially socialist countries—we are "center-right" or just plain "right" with our national politics. And, both views are probably correct, at least in the "eye of the beholder." Not only that, we are also in the midst of a political "correction," after moving uncomfortably to the left during the Obama administration—again, very similar to what we did after the Carter administration.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Can Mitt Romney Best Barack Obama on Foreign Policy?]

Fourth. Most Americans are uncomfortable being regarded as a member of the "family of nations" and we haven't been comfortable with this idea since the end of World War II. For example, what is happening in Greece and Spain scares us to death and we never want to be anything like them. In short, most of us understand that we will always have to lead—this because we know that what we have is truly unique in the world and will always be at risk from one threat or another.

In sum, what's going to happen next month is eminently predictable and represents a return to "business as usual" for America's political "comfort zone"—albeit not what the French (and the media) may want to see happen. The French? Well, they still have great food—and they liked Jimmy Carter too. The media? Come on man, they don't know anything.

  • Read Benjamin H. Friedman: Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama is Hawk vs. Hawk
  • Read Robert Nolan: Polls Show What Americans Really Think About Foreign Policy
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.