Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy speech Monday at the Virginia Military Institute — an appropriate setting for a speech focused on war.
Romney touched on many foreign policy issues, including the Syrian conflict, Iran’s potential acquisition of nuclear weapons, relations with Israel and the United States’ overall role in the Middle East. To say that these are critical issues that deserve both candidates’ and voters’ attention is an understatement. But with Election Day only three and a half weeks away, Romney should be focusing on the wars being fought at home and what Americans really need from their president to fight these wars.
Romney devoted his first speech after the presidential debate to all things military. He pointed to how President Barack Obama has led the country astray in the Middle East and laid out his superior plan, which ranges from specific action, such as restoring the Navy to its original size by building “15 ships per year, including three submarines,” to vague sound bites about “[winning] new friends” in the Middle East and pursuing a transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014, all without a solid plan to leave the country.
With anti-Obama, patriotic rhetoric, these plans sound great. They undoubtedly appeal to a large number of voters. But if you read between the lines, there’s something Romney missed: how these plans distract from and add to issues we need to face at home.
Americans do not need the extra expense of increased military spending nor of building almost twice as many ships per year to expand the Navy (which would, by the way, increase the Navy’s budget to $200 billion by 2016, an increase from $156 billion this year).
Americans do not need a pursuit of an Afghanistan exit strategy, but a solid plan that will allow us to be out of the country by 2014 and no later. Our continued presence in Afghanistan is a burden on Americans personally and financially, and it does not allow Afghans the independence they need to truly grow and move forward toward democracy. Romney’s speech indicates that his main foreign policy theme is increased military action — the opposite of what the country needs.
And whether or not you agree with that, we’ve heard this all before. We’ve been beaten over the head with the Romney campaign rhetoric: All of the conflict in the Middle East is because of poor decisions made by Obama, and Romney is here to put the country on the right track.
What would really distinguish Romney as the better candidate would be to say something new, to give visibility to issues at home that have been ignored thus far in the election.
Why not give a speech at a community college on the importance of public education, and offer a realistic plan to help our country’s public schools? Why not visit Aurora, Colo. to talk about reforming gun control laws?
The election is so narrowly focused on discussing the economy and foreign policy, on making rousing speeches about these topics and on attacking the other candidates’ failures that many issues related to the day-to-day lives of Americans get lost in the mix.
Romney ended his speech with this statement: “The 21st century can and must be an American century. It began with terror and war and economic calamity. It’s our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom and peace and prosperity.”
A true commitment to the path of “freedom, peace and prosperity” would not entail more war, but instead a refreshing stand for the American people that is in touch with what they truly want and need.
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish and is the Daily Trojan’s editorial director. Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.
Though Romney’s proposed military buildup won’t make the United States look any better in the eyes of some of our international peers, emphasizing the Middle East as our foremost foreign focus will help put the nation back on track to military and economic security.
Particularly in the last decade, many Middle Eastern countries have adopted severely anti-Western dispositions. Internal strife has only made this worse: The Arab Spring, Iran’s nuclear program and unrest in Syria and Libya have put these countries on a global stage, making their unrest all the more dangerous.
As an example, Romney began his speech citing the nearly two dozen cases of anti-American violence last month — including the deaths of a U.S. Ambassador and three veterans in Benghazi, Libya — to illustrate just how dire the current situation is in the Middle East. And he’s right to do so: In terms of other foreign policy concerns, China is a looming economic threat, but they aren’t being openly hostile. The attacks in the Middle East are frequent enough that they don’t constitute random acts of violence. They are examples of organized terrorism directed at the United States, and with the election looming so close, both candidates should be clearly explaining how they plan to respond to these issues.
That’s not to say Romney’s plans are 100 percent on the right track. He plans to increase the size of the Navy, bolster security spending among NATO members with an additional 2 percent of gross domestic product and expand our presence in several Middle Eastern countries over the next couple years. All this can only drag the conflict on. But at least it’s a decisive action plan compared to what we’ve seen from President Barack Obama, who, after four years, still hasn’t delivered on his commitment to remove American soldiers from overseas. America certainly doesn’t need any more spending right now, and Romney has already committed to a deficit-neutral budget if he takes office. A plan to address the Middle East while subduing the national deficit covers two of America’s most pressing issues and could put the country back on a path to prosperity.
But in light of past administrations’ handling of foreign policy, Romney might have the right idea. Increasing military spending and presence is always a risky move — it could have the result of alienating countries that see the United States as a threat and further souring American sentiments toward military spending. But part of the reason is because this strategy hasn’t been successfully implemented. Former President George W. Bush’s administration botched the early years of war in the Middle East with unclear goals and questionable motives, while the Obama administration has made minimal progress. I don’t support a direct increase in military power, but I also don’t know everything about foreign affairs — a new, decisive leader could be just what America needs to wrap things up once and for all.
Romney wants to return the United States to its former position as a “global leader.” And though the strategy for doing so is up for debate, it’s tough to argue that Romney’s plan won’t make it a reality. We are in an extremely fragile situation with the Middle East, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remove ourselves from their affairs.
Romney’s foreign policy strategy isn’t guaranteed to work, but it acknowledges a truth Obama has ignored: If we don’t find a solution to resolve anti-Western sentiments soon, we will only exacerbate the problem and cause further issues for America down the road. Romney promises to put the nation on a road to “freedom, peace and prosperity” — voters need to keep this goal in mind and support the best plan of action to get us there.
Burke Gibson is a sophomore majoring in economics and is the Daily Trojan’s chief copy editor.
Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.