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Romney’s Foreign Policy Speech Misses the Mark on the Arab Spring
Ryan Mauro October 11, 2012
Mitt Romney’s Columbus Day foreign policy speech struck a sharp tone, slamming the Obama Administration for undercutting American credibility abroad and making the U.S. look weak. However, his address failed to specifically identify the enemy as the Islamist ideology, instead framing the global conflict as a war between freedom and tyranny.
Romney did speak of an ideological element to the war we’re in, talking about terrorists “who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others,” including those who raised the “black banner of Islamic extremism over American embassies on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.” He summarized the conflict with: “In short, it is a struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.”
To be fair, Romney’s campaign website uses more specific language. He has previously defined the enemy as “jihadism,” though he said in 2009 that it is “by no means a branch of Islam. It is instead an entirely different entity. In no way do I suggest it is a part of Islam.” His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, defined the enemy as “Islamic fascism” in 2006.
Yesterday’s address oversimplifies and mischaracterizes the Arab Spring. It makes it sound like the Arab Spring is a single unit and its supporters are part of the struggle for freedom, while its opponents are part of the struggle for tyranny. In actuality, this struggle is taking place within the Arab Spring. It includes both Islamist and secular-oriented components. These types of generalities allow the Muslim Brotherhood to cast itself as a democratic, non-violent, moderate force.
Luckily, Romney’s campaign website shows he understands this. He wants to “pursue a strategy of supporting groups and governments across the Middle East to advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity, and human rights, and opposing any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence. The Romney administration will strive to ensure that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab Winter.”
He said in his speech that he’d put one director in charge of all aid programs in the greater Middle East. His website is more specific. The director will be chosen within 100 days and will consolidate all our efforts in order to “properly direct our soft power toward ensuring the Arab Spring realizes its promise.” This reflects the influence of one of Romney’s special advisers on foreign policy and national security, Dr. Walid Phares, who the Council on American-Islamic Relations detests. Phares is not ignorant of the Islamist threat and has long advocated an ideological war to combat it.
On Iran, Romney criticized President Obama for not endorsing the 2009 Green Revolution, but he did not state that regime’s overthrow would be the goal of his administration. He’s frequently said he’d support Iranian dissidents and he stated in December 2011, “Ultimately, regime change is what’s going to be necessary.” Yesterday, he said he’d implement stronger sanctions, more closely align the U.S. with Israel and would permanently station aircraft carrier task forces in the Gulf and Mediterranean Sea.
Romney did not signal support for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria, but he said his administration would identify allies among the rebels and arm them. He is aware of the possibility that Islamists may replace Bashar Assad, so he said he’d work with the rebels to ensure that a democratic government follows.
He ridiculed the President’s firm timeline for ending the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by 2014. Instead, Romney said he’d act on the recommendations of the generals with a transition to a non-combat role by 2014 being a goal, not a requirement. Pakistan’s support for Islamist terrorists was not addressed. Romney’s website says we “should not be shy about using” leverage over Pakistan to force it to cut these links, but it is unclear what is meant by that.
Romney said he’d “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side with the Jewish state of Israel.” His website has tougher language on the Palestinians, saying he’d reduce aid if they form a unity government with Hamas or pursue U.N. recognition of an independent state.
The problem is that there’s nothing to “recommit” the U.S. to. The “peace process” cannot move forward because the conflict is a subset of the fight with Islamist ideology. Rep. Paul Ryan pointed this out in 2006 using a quote from Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of Al-Qaeda:
“The war with Israel is not about a treaty, a cease-fire agreement, Sykes-Picot borders, national zeal, or disputed borders. It is rather a jihad for the sake of God until the religion of God is established. It is a jihad for the liberation of Palestine, all Palestine, as well as every land that was a home for Islam, from Andalusia to Iraq. The whole world is an open field for us.”
Romney’s major foreign policy address hit some key points but did not explain the broader confrontation with Islamism and how to defeat it. His website and other statements provide more detail and clarification, but the public needs to be educated. If he becomes President Romney, he better recognize that informing the country about his policy is just as important as enacting it.
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