Mitt Romney's giving his 2.0 campaign's first real foreign policy speech today. Most likely, I will not read it before Yom Kippur. My test is whether the speech is a departure from his frivolous, ignorant 2010 national-security book No Apologies, a tour de force of conservative shibboleths, pandering cliches about geopolitics, ignorance and plain bad ideas. For instance:
There are two salient global facts Romney never considers in his book. The first is that it is actually possible to obtain positive-sum relations with rising powers. The rise of China does not have to equal the decline of the United States. If, as Romney argues — following Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer — decline is a choice, so is permanent international competition. The concept of diplomacy is completely foreign to Romney. He dismisses the State Department as “assistant secretaries and… bureaucrats” and proposes designating regional relations to “one individual” who would become a “presidential envoy or the ambassador from CENTCOM or any of the other regional military commands.” Such an individual would “encourage people and politicians to adopt and abide by the principles of liberal democracy,” something that “would be ideal if other allied nations created similar regional positions, and if we coordinated our efforts with theirs.” That’s it for diplomacy, and he doesn’t have an agenda for global development. Why the world will simply do what America says simply because America says it is something Romney never bothers to consider. High school students at model U.N. conferences have proposed less ludicrous ideas.
The second concept Romney ignores is international institutions. He has practically nothing to say about the network of international institutions and regional alliances the U.S. engages with, from the United Nations to the G-20 to NATO to ASEAN to the IMF and World Bank. These institutions, occasionally the object of scorn from the right (the U.N.) and the left (the IMF), are permanent fixtures in international relations — fora for both international competition and cooperation. Romney has nothing to say about them — except for the invocation that NATO nations ought to spend more on defense — which might help explain why he views global power as a zero-sum competition.
That absence could be explained by the typical conservative hostility to anything resembling diplomacy or multilateralism. But there is a more surprising absence in “No Apology”: the Afghanistan war...
I could go on. And if you want me to, click here.
On the other hand, I've recently heard from people I trust that the gravity of actually being president is dawning on Romney -- who, if he gets the GOP nomination, is a better-than-even shot to be elected. To what degree will the speech depart from No Apologies? Has Romney matured? Has his outlooked deepened? Does he still want to marginalize or even abolish the State Department?
I'm seeing on Twitter that Romney might make Navy shipbuilding the centerpiece of the speech. If so, he's getting good advice. Shipbuilding is good old fashioned government job creation; the Navy is facing the aging-out of nearly 100 Reagan-era ships in the 2020s; and the western Pacific is increasingly the central theater of geopolitics. Declining to make a big shipbuilding push is a missed opportunity by Obama, especially if Romney outflanks him on it, and at a time when economics dominates the campaign, people will probably think shipbuilding will be a jobs boon to more than just the few states (Maine, Mississippi, etc.) that will reap the most direct benefit.