Defense & National Security

On defense and foreign policy, Romney still short on details

On defense and foreign policy, Romney still short on details
When it comes to defense and foreign affairs, Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney has played strategy cards close to his chest for much of his campaign. The decision is tactical in a race where concern over national security and foreign relations are pushed far down Americans’ list of priorities by economic worries and joblessness, but also a source of some frustration to policy experts who are eager to hear Romney dictate a more nuanced stance on issues like the Syrian conflict, missile defense, and moving forward past the end of the war in Afghanistan.

“They have not articulated a really detailed foreign policy plan yet,” Heritage Foundation defense expert Steven Bucci, a retired Army officer and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, told Human Events. “All of us would like to see that.”

The current challenge for Romney is to differentiate himself from Obama on security issues, and he has tried to do that by adopting a more aggressive stance on everything, from defense funding to the Iranian nuclear threat.

Romney told veterans in Reno, Nev. last month that he would do more to keep Iran in check, working to curtail uranium enrichment activities for any purpose. He and adviser Rich Williamson have repeatedly alleged that the years of Obama’s presidency have brought America closer to a nuclear crisis, because of the president’s efforts at negotiation rather than harsh and credible threats of force.

Undo Obama’s defense cuts

On military budgeting, Romney has said he would undo Obama’s defense cuts from last fiscal year and replace funds scheduled to be slashed through sequestration, while bringing military spending back up to four percent of GDP from the current 3.6 percent (which will decline further if sequestration cuts prevail) and returning troop strength to the wartime levels of the Bush-era surge. The figures Romney has named are bolder than even some estimates by Washington defense hawks, but some theorize that the candidate is foremost sending a message that he is on the side of American troops.

“Using the surge level is a nice number that people can understand; it’s not an esoteric, up-in-the-clouds ‘we need more,’” Bucci said. “Whether that’s the right number, I don’t know. (Romney) doesn’t have the Pentagon there to do his analysis for him yet.”

Though a more detailed treatment of security issues may not come until the presidential debates later this year, Bucci said he is heartened by the slate of defense and foreign policy advisers Romney has lined up, which includes seasoned talent from a who’s who of Washington think tanks, such as Council on Foreign Relations fellow Dan Senor, Brookings Institution fellow Rich Williamson, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“The ones that I know of are not all drawn from one particular organization or one orientation on the spectrum, which I see as a good thing,” Bucci said. “There’s a little broader scope of advice before they make decisions. I think they have brought in a pretty diverse team, all basically in the same orientation as the governor and the congressman (running mate Paul Ryan), but not down one straight line.”

Conservative defense policy experts were also cheered at Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan earlier this month for vice president. While Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal would not go as far to augment defense spending as Romney’s propositions would, his philosophy corroborates the concept of American exceptionalism that has framed every Romney foreign policy speech.

“Ryan seems to understand that despite tough times here at home, America cannot give up its traditional leadership role in the world,” Foreign Policy Initiative director Jamie Fly told The Daily Beast, calling Ryan’s position “Reaganesque.”

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