(MintPress) — As the Republican National Convention (RNC) began in Tampa, Fla. last week, the nation’s attention focused upon the largely symbolic delegate vetting process and grandiose speeches by rising stars in the GOP. Romney has spent much of his campaign discussing the economy but has spent comparatively little time discussing pressing foreign policy matters, namely trade with China, the growing Iranian nuclear issue and a possible NATO intervention in Syria.
While Obama has promised $500 billion worth of cuts to defense spending in 2011, the Romney-Ryan ticket has vowed to repeal these cuts. Instead, they have proposed increases in overall defense spending. This prevailing neoconservative foreign policy, rooted in the Cold War Reagan doctrine, will likely mean more military interventions in Syria, and possibly Iran, should Romney win the election this fall.
Romney foreign policy
However, one area where there appears to be some overlap in foreign policy objectives is a focus on Pacific rim countries. Much like Obama, Mitt Romney has called for a strong military presence in East Asia as a means to deter “coercive or aggressive behavior by China” in the region.
As the traditional centers of power in the U.S. and Western Europe decline, the rise of India, China and other Asian countries will likely increase American focus in this region to implement favorable trade relationships and control natural resources in an increasingly multi-polar world.
Romney could be thrown into a difficult situation, having to consider a NATO intervention in Syria and an attack on Iran should the more hawkish elements of his party push the U.S. to prevent the development of an Iranian nuclear program, even one for avowedly peaceful purposes.
This could prove challenging for a first term president with virtually no foreign policy experience. Romney has served previously as president and CEO of the Salt Lake organizing committee for the 2002 winter Olympics games in Utah. He is also well acquainted with international business through his work as co-founder of Bain Capital, a multi-billion dollar asset management firm.
Headquartered in Boston, Romney oversaw the overseas expansion of Bain Capital during the 1980s. Today, there are a number of international Bain offices, including offices in Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
However, beyond these experiences, Romney boasts few foreign policy credentials and limited experience dealing with international political matters during his years as governor of Massachusetts 2003-2007.
For Romney, the theme that predominates regardless of region is one of military expansion in a time of increased government austerity. Rather than overcoming budget shortfalls through taxation and slashes to the military budget, Romney has promised to reduce government spending on social programs while increasing military spending by as much as $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
The U.S. spends an estimated $711 billion on its current military budget, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. This represents the largest military spending of any country in the world, far outstripping the other major military leaders — China, Russia, U.K., France, Japan and Saudi Arabia — in total combined spending.
The proposed Romney increases, however, will not be spread equally among U.S. military bases across the world. While the Middle East continues to be a region of interest for the U.S., concerned about the flow of Persian Gulf oil and the safety of allies like Israel, the attention of the next administration will likely result in more money spent developing the U.S.-China trade partnership while bolstering American military presence in the East Pacific.
Military development in the East Pacific may also be designed to challenge Russia, a country that Romney considers to be the primary adversary of the U.S. despite normalizing relations at the end of Cold War hostilities in the early 1990s.
Romney on China
The U.S. runs a significant trade deficit with China, contributing significantly to the spiraling U.S. debt. According to the U.S.-China Business Council, the U.S. ran a $295 billion deficit with China in 2011.
China, a key trade partner with the U.S. and a growing economic power, is a concern for any U.S. president hoping to curb currency manipulation. Washington has long blamed Beijing of artificially altering the Yuan to benefit Chinese exports.
Toward this end, Romney proposes that the U.S. should maintain a robust military presence in the Pacific region to protect trade routes, allies and regional stability. The former Massachusetts governor has also promised to increase the sale of aircraft and military equipment to Taiwan, a move that many Chinese see as provocative and “pugnacious.”
Earlier this week, the state-run Chinese newspaper, “China Daily,” lambasted Romney’s proposed China policy saying, “By any standard, the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s China policy, as outlined on his official campaign website, is an outdated manifestation of a Cold War mentality. It endorses the ‘China threat’ theory and focuses on containing China’s rise in the Asia-Pacific through bolstering the robust U.S. military presence in the region.”
“In the face of China’s accelerated military build-up, the United States and our allies must maintain appropriate military capabilities to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors,” the Romney campaign website says.
Selling this notion to his own party may prove difficult. A growing number of tea party Republicans, libertarians and moderates support a smaller military footprint as a policy in America’s best economic and strategic interests.
While China remains arguably the most important U.S. economic relationship, maintaining a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is one that continues to bring in votes, from inside and outside the Jewish-American community.
Romney on Iran and Israel
During his visit to Israel last month, Romney made clear to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he “supports his stance on Iran.” Netanyahu has stated previously that there is no acceptable level of Iranian nuclear enrichment, including enrichment for peaceful projects.
Additionally, the Israeli prime minister has aggressively pursued a war of words with Iran, threatening a direct military strike should sanctions and negotiations fail to end all Iranian nuclear enrichment activity.
Although President Obama has agreed to a framework for keeping Iranian nuclear enrichment below the 20 percent weapons grade, Netanyahu has expressed reservations, at times calling for a direct strike before the November 2012 presidential election.
Although just one-fifth of American Jews place Israel as a top policy issue, brandishing “pro-Israel” credentials is a sought after label for both presidential candidates seeking to pull votes from the Jewish-American community.
A much larger voting bloc, Evangelical Christians, largely favor strong U.S. support for Israel as well. This, some political analysts contend, is designed to make Israel a contentious wedge issue among Jewish and Evangelical constituencies. However, with more than 100,000 dual nationals in Israel favoring the GOP, Romney’s trip may have served a more direct purpose.
“A nuclear Iran will pose an existential threat to Israel, whose security is a vital U.S. national interest,” Romney writes on his campaign website.
Romney supports a fifth round of sanctions aimed at breaking the back of Iranian banking institutions. He also calls explicitly for reaching out to Iranian political opposition movements for support. He mentions the “Green Movement” specifically, a large group of politically disenfranchised youth who took to the streets en masse following the 2009 Iranian presidential election.
Major protests erupted after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in an election that was thought to be corrupt and unfair. Most of the protesters supported the reform candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi.
While this sounds like a favorable policy, Romney could follow the lead of others in Washington by taking the strategy one step further by supporting the terrorist group, the Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK). The group has been in exile in Iraq, under joint U.S.-Iraqi protection, launching terrorist attacks against the Shah, and more recently against the Ahmadinejad government.
Many in Washington have petitioned for the MEK’s removal from the State Department terrorism watchlist.
Although the state of the U.S. economy will likely top the list of voter concerns this November, a closer consideration of foreign policy will reveal that national security, international relations and the state of the U.S. economy are all very much intertwined.
While growing numbers of Americans question the expansive use of U.S. military force in the world, a war-weary public may be forced to endure two campaigns in Syria and Iran that by most accounts will put our troops at risk for dubious goals that do nothing to advance U.S. strategic interests.
Such an aggressive foreign policy strategy is not likely to play well with a public that overwhelmingly opposes expanding military spending and war with Iran and Syria. A full 76 percent of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, favor cuts to the military budget according to a May Stimson Center Poll.
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