Okay, let's deal quickly with the one thing I liked in Romney's text: the prominent feature of energy policy, and the (indirect) acknowledgement that it is a foreign policy issue. Of course, he talks only about the dependency aspects, and not abouyt how oil influences US policies (more on this below) and, unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, his proposed remedies that are worse than the problem, i.e. he focuses on the traditional 'solutions' of the Republicans: more, more, more, i.e. supply-side crap:
It will also mean increasing our domestic energy production with more drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, more nuclear power, more renewable energy sources, more ethanol, more biodiesel, more solar and wind power, and a fuller exploitation of coal.
ANWR? Coal? Bleh.
The other thing that might have been interesting is his idea that international civilian policies of the USA should be coordinated like the military ones are. But he turns that into a frankly scary idea to create super-prefects to supervise each region of the world:
We need to fundamentally change the cultures of our civilian agencies and create dynamic, flexible, and task-based approaches that focus on results rather than bureaucracy. We need joint strategies and joint operations that go beyond the Goldwater-Nichols Act to mobilize all areas of our national power. Just as the military has divided the world into regional theaters for all of its branches, the work of our civilian agencies should be organized along common geographic boundaries. For every region, one civilian leader should have authority over and responsibility for all the relevant agencies and departments, similar to the single military commander who heads U.S. Central Command. These new leaders should be heavy hitters, with names that are recognized around the world. They should have independent objectives, budgets, and oversight. Their performance should be evaluated according to their success in promoting America's political, military, diplomatic, and economic interests in their respective regions and building the foundations of freedom, democracy, security, and peace.
This is almost naked empire building. Heavy hitters with the control of the full might of the US government, and in charge of "freedom, democracy, security, and peace" in their respective areas of the world? How long before they'd start dictating policies to local governments and attempting to run the countries under their purview? This has been a permanent temptation for American foreign policy in the past half-century, but this would create a formal structure to explicitly do it, and it is unlikely that, after having built the tool, it would remain unused. This is truly megalomaniac stuff.
I was harsh about Barack Obama's focus on threats, and his strong words about reinforcing the US military, and his support for American exceptionalism, but it was quite mild compared to Romney's inclinations in there respects. (As I acknowledged in the comments of yesterday's diary, I deliberately focused in that diary on what I found to be the worrying aspects of Obama's text, because, on balance, I found them too strong compared to the less objectionable, or even laudable parts of his article, and the overall proportion left me with a bad impression. I found Obama's "good bits" insufficient, but at least they were there)
The perception of a threatening world dominates his text, with genocide, Darfur, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and China's rise adding to the threat from the Middle East. And that last threat is seen as an all-encompassing struggle:
Many still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam, specifically by those extremists who promote violent jihad against the United States and the universal values Americans espouse. Understandably, the nation tends to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq, where American men and women are dying. We think in terms of countries because countries were our enemies in the last century's great conflicts. The congressional debate in Washington has largely, and myopically, focused on whether troops should be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan, as if these were isolated issues. Yet the jihad is much broader than any one nation, or even several nations. It is broader than the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, or that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Radical Islam has one goal: to replace all modern Islamic states with a worldwide caliphate while destroying the United States and converting all nonbelievers, forcibly if necessary, to Islam. This plan sounds irrational, and it is. But it is no more irrational than the policies pursued by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and Stalin's Soviet Union during the Cold War. And the threat is just as real.
So, a worldwide struggle with an ideology as dangerous as nazism and stalinism. And it is a struggle to death, as they want the destruction of the US. And they use evil weapons like clerics, children and the internet. A sneaky, devious enemy. And they want nuclear weapons to attack the US.
And of course, it is Clinton's fault that this threat was not recognised for what it is, and that the US military was so weak as a result to strike back. I kid you not.
Look at how long it took the U.S. government to confront the reality of jihadism. Extremists bombed our marines in Lebanon. They bombed our embassies in East Africa. They bombed the U.S.S. Cole. They even set off a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center before we truly saw the threat they posed.
After President George H. W. Bush left office, in 1993, the Clinton administration began to dismantle the military, taking advantage of what has been called a "peace dividend" from the end of the Cold War. It took a dividend, but we did not get the peace. It seems that our leaders had come to believe that war and security threats were gone forever;
The equipment and armament gap continues to this day. Even as we have increased defense spending to meet the challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, our budgets for procurement and modernization have lagged behind. This is a troubling scenario for the future, and it puts our country and our troops -- present and future -- at risk, as we wring the life out of old and inadequate equipment.
Thus he proposes, not surprisingly, a massive increase in the military budget, and commits "to spending a minimum of four percent of GDP on national defense", like in the good old days of the cold war.
Beyond the military build up, he proposes "energy independence" as described above via more drilling more coal and more ethanol (neither of which will make a dent in oil consumption, and each of which will create massive additional problems, whether environmental damage, increased carbon emissions or competition with food supplies). He proposes the new imperial prefects I also discussed, and has an additional section on "revitalising alliances" which is essentially a long rant against the UN Human Rights Council (which is indeed mostly a joke, but is not an alliance, and, being part of the UN, is not meant as an interventionist body, and has never been a significant tool of US policy at any time). He mentions the OSCE as an example (suggesting that it was responsible for the peace in Europe after WWII, ignoring that it was created in the 1970s, and, as expected, failing to mention the EU), and quotes neocon (and out-of-power) Spaniard Aznar as to how NATO should be used to kick ass around the world.
Throughout, he peppers his text with references to the "greatest generation", and the need for similarly strong action and, naturally, on America's mission:
We are a unique nation, and there is no substitute for our leadership.
Thus the themes that I flagged in Obama's speech (the perception of threats, the need for more military firepower, and the sense of exceptionalism) are present in an even more exarcerbated fashion. I guess this does not surprise me too much coming from a Republican, which is why I'm using less outraged words, but it's a toxic combination that scares and alienates me and many around the world.
And of course, no mention of global warming, no mention of ending Guantananmo, no mention of ending torture, no mention that allies might have been alienated by Bush. (I will apologize to Obama supporters on this point: Barack Obama is absolutely unambiguous on all these topics. I guess that I saw it as such a basic requirement that it did not strike me as remarkable - but noting their absolute absence in Romney's text shows that it is by no means a trivial issue, and thus I salute Obama's words on this more explicitly today.)
As a wider point, I'd like to make explicit my positions on a number of issues, which underpin some of my reactions to the proposed foreign policies. Just for the avoidance of doubt, these are personal opinions and I certainly do not claim to represent European or world opinion on these points.
To me, the threat of terrorism is vastly overrated. Terrorism is fundamentally (i) a law enforcement issue, and (ii) a political issue linked to our noxious policies in the region.
Terrorism's significance is vastly exagerated. With the admittedly big exception of 9/11, its actual impact on our lives is unsignificant (just look at statistices for death and damages from any other cause, whether car accidents, firearms, arson, etc...). Even 9/11, while exceptionally huge, did not have any material impact on the US economy beyond that in our heads. Terrorism works when it makes us change our behavior and become fearful, vengeful or hateful and lose our values in the process. The more we ignore it, the less it will have an actual impact. Terrorism should be treated like car accidents. It's a tragedy when you're caught in one, but it's a statistic for the country. (I'll get back to nuclear below).
As a law enforcement issue, it does require international action, but not military action at all. The opportunity to push for a much more active international justice was lost (probably for a long time, one of the most terrible legacies of Bush) in the late months of 2001, when many countries hostile to it could have been coerced into it by the USA, as an alternative to all out war, but that does not mean that law enforcement cannot work today. As a basic first step, existing laws should apply to all detainees, and normal legal procedures should apply to terrorism, with minor tweaking, as has been done in a number of countries. We have to uphold the law if the fight against these criminals is to mean anything.
As a political issue, the requirement is to go for the root causes: our support for corrupt, dictatorial regimes in the expectation that this will secure our access to oil. This is silly (Iran has been a reliable supplier and actually is more open to foreign investment than Saudi Arabia), and terribly counterproductive, as whole populations have grown up with the equation dictature = the West and have found, as their only outlet for political action, support for religious movements (which have a strong social role in many countries and thus high on-the-ground legitimacy), and have equated democracy = islam. Our priority should be to let these populations make the democratic choice they want, i.e. accepting that religious leaders gain power in a number of these countries. Again, the contrasting examples of Iran (where they did gain power and would have been kicked out of power by their population, had we not given them the populist opportunity to rally Iranians around the flag - and them - by threatening the country) and Algeria (where Islamists who won elections in the early 90s were forcibly pushed out by the military, with Western support, which led to a bloody civil war and terrorism in Europe) shows that it's not clear that our preferred solution is really better for us.
As an additional factor, we should reduce on dependence on the oil they produce, which means reducing our demand, not producing more (as that feeds demand and only pushes the problem to a bit later, while making it bigger).
I consider that the tension with Iran is mostly generated by the USA. Sure, they are hostile to Israel, sure they have a crazy (but mostly powerless) president. Sure they are trying to get nukes.
But look at it from their perspective: the US has already invaded two of their (non-nuclear armed) neighbors, has troops in a couple other neighbors (Turkey and Azerbaijan) and keeps hinting that it want to do the same to them. The US is also strangely inactive towards countries that do have nuclear weapons (North Korea and Pakistan). Put two and tow together: nuclear weapons protect you from the proven threat of US invasion and occupation.
And remember that the humiliation of 1979 was preceded, in Iranian minds, by the US-backed coup of 1953, when their democratically elected leader was pushed out in favor of a nasty US-friendly dictator.
It's time for Americans to put the embassy crisis behind them, and to commit to peace with Iran. They want it - they've made the diplomatic moves; they'll get it via a nuclear weapon otherwise, it's hard to blame them for it - and it's hard to see that as a danger. Just as India and Pakistan going officially nuclear has actually calmed things down between them, it's very much likely that the same would happen with Israel, as both countries face the responsibility of MAD. Iran has a long history as a country, and its leaders are just as pragmatic and keen to remain in power as elsewhere. A nuclear attack against a country with several hundred nukes (and a close ally of the US) is unlikely to lead to any of that. Nuclear weapons in the hands of states are not offensive weapons - they cannot be - the only people deluded enough to think that are US neocons. and a State giving nuclear weapons to terrorists will easily be identified, and treated as if it had used the weapon. I cannot imagine that Iranian leaders would want to take that risk with fundamentally uncontrollable groups.
Which leaves us with nuclear proliferation, and the risk of a terrorist attack using a nuclear device. quite frankly, that riks does not come from Iran or Iraq. If it exists at all, it comes from the former Soviet Union (ignored by Romney but addressed by Obama) or Pakistan (ignored by both). It can only be solved by close international cooperation between police and spies from various countries. That requires trust, and it requires give-and-take, not diktats and threats.
In the meantime, again, terrorism's main effect is on *our* behavior. If we drop our values, treat all Others as enemies or even go to war, terrorists have won without even needing to blow up any bomb. The "war on terror" can only be won in our heads.
I'm often told that Europeans had it easy, and had the luxury of going about cooperating and using soft power because they were protected by US military might. Besides the fact that this overlooks the fact that we were meant to be the battlefield in any war with the Soviets, and had a stake in protecting our homes (and thus did contribute to the military effort), I'm not sure how that argument works today. Who is the US protecting us from today?
The only thing that I see here is the protection of sea lanes for trade, mostly, if implicitly, done by the US Navy all over the world. Naturally, that includes oil trade, which brings us to energy policy (*We need to use less oil*. Reduce demand. Think conservation rather than looking for more supply. Etc, etc...), but beyond this?
Actual US leadership came from undisputed economic power, bringing goods, business practices, investment and technology around the world. Today? It's spreading around Goods (and demand for commodities) come from China. Standards come from Europe (just look at REACH, the EU directive on chemical products coming into force today, which imposes high health and safety standards that will apply in Europe but will become de fact oworld standards as they are the toughest around). Engineers come from India. Capital comes from all over and is loyal to no country.
So what's the claim to leadership today, beyond the ability to invade countries at will? Might makes right is unlikely to work very long in today's world. Thus my wariness at proposals to reinforce the military, and my dismay at Romney's package.