Europeans pay attention: Romney is different | Transatlantic Voices | DW | 09.08.2012
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Transatlantic Voices

Europeans pay attention: Romney is different

While it may not be easily detected at first glance, the foreign policy of a President Romney would look very different from that of President Obama, argues Henry Nau in a piece for Transatlantic Voices.

Henry R. Nau is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC and a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He served in the Reagan White House from 1981 to 1983.

On his recent trip to Europe and Israel, Mitt Romney outlined a very different foreign policy for the United States. The media, obsessed with "gotcha" coverage, missed it. But Europeans and Americans alike would be ill-advised to do the same.

Romney distinguished his diplomacy in three ways: One, he believes America is exceptional. Two, he bases his policy on military strength and assertiveness. And, three, he lives and breathes the capitalist and free market economy.

Truman and Reagan as models

Professor Nau Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Elliott School of International Affairs The George Washington University

Henry R. Nau

In all three ways, his foreign policy looks more like that of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan and less like that of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It's the foreign policy of a self-confident America, one that does not curry favor by downsizing America.

Europeans, in particular, need to pay attention.

By visiting Great Britain first, Romney reconnected with the history of an exceptionalist view of America. Before leaving for Europe, he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW):

I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. . . .I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever. And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century.

Some Americans and many Europeans see this view as self-serving. But if it is, it has been self-serving for both Europe and America.

As Romney went on, America and its European and Asian allies defeated fascism in World War II, communism in the Cold War, and now stand together as the citadel of a free world that rejects radical terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

US-led alliance improved the world

Think about it for a moment. This alliance led by the United States did not just defeat and punish its enemies, as great powers did for centuries. It also constructed a world in which these enemies too could be prosperous and free.

The Concert of Europe restored defeated powers; the post-World War II system revitalized them through a system of free markets and unparalleled prosperity and gave them the space to develop their own democracies and free institutions.

But it did not stop there. The American-led system opened up to the developing world – the original Asian tigers of South Korea and Taiwan, then a second wave of emerging market countries such as Indonesia and Brazil, and now the "mother of all emerging markets," China and India.

Exceptionalism is not unilateralism

America did not do this alone. American exceptionalism does not mean unilateralism. The Marshall Plan and NATO were collective efforts. The World Trade Organization and G-20 today are too. The European Union, Japan and emerging markets are vital engines of growth.

But without America, they lack the largest market for their imports. And America today is showing little economic leadership and vitality. The eurozone economies may already be in a recession, and recent July numbers suggest that the United States may not be far behind.

So the question America's closest allies have to ask is this: what other country would have led the post-World War II system in this fashion? And what other country or group of countries is ready today to seize the mantle of global leadership?

As Romney said to the VFW convention, "If we do not have the strength or vision to lead, then other powers will take our place, pulling history in a very different direction." History can't do the job alone. In Jerusalem, he added:

I believe that those who oppose these fundamental rights are on the wrong side of history. But history's march can be ponderous and painfully slow. We have a duty to speed and shape history by being unapologetic ambassadors for the values we share.

Strength ensures peace

Leadership requires power. That was the second point Romney nailed down on his recent trip. In Israel, he made it clear that military strength does not provoke war but insures peace:

It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war.

The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches with force and clarity that when the world's most despotic regimes secure the world's most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war.

Romney believes that despots threaten war, not democracies that arm to defend themselves.

Today, Russia, China and fundamentalist Islam repress the rights of opposition leaders, human rights advocates, women and religious and cultural minorities. They imprison or, worse, execute them. That's the origin of mistrust and conflict in international affairs.

Freedom has to be defended

As Ronald Reagan once said, "if they do that to their own people, think what they would do to us if they got the chance." As much as some Americans and Europeans disagree about the death penalty, they don't disagree about the protections of democratic institutions and the need for an independent judiciary and the rule of law to render convictions. In China, 98 per cent of murder charges result in murder convictions. So much for the rule of law among despots.

So, if freedom is going to survive, it has to be defended. And America has led the way here as well. It spends more on defense than all of its allies combined. That's a burden the American people bear for the freedom of Europe and Japan. Romney insists they continue to bear it. He too wants to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he is more cautious.

When America retreats, as it did after 1945 and again after Vietnam, bad things follow. Stalin besieged Berlin and Moscow invaded Afghanistan. Who stands guard today, the way Truman and Reagan did back then?

Military strength requires strong economics

Military power of course is expensive. So economic growth is a prerequisite of western freedom. That's the third point Romney hammered home in Poland.

Capitalism built the prosperity of the free world, not government stimulus and subsidy programs. And by safeguarding individual entrepreneurship, capitalism safeguards political freedom. Of course we debate the balance between freedom of opportunity and equality of condition. But we don't debate the value of competition. Everywhere the state has grown too big, prosperity and freedom have suffered.

Romney praised Poland's commitment to free markets:

as a result, your economy has experienced positive growth in each of the last twenty years. In that time, you have doubled the size of your economy. The private sector has gone from a mere 15 percent of the economy to 65 percent. And while other nations fell into recession in recent years, you weathered the storm and continued to flourish.

Europe needs the spirit of capitalist freedom, which is strongest in eastern Europe and stronger still in America. It does not have to emulate America's "casino" capitalism. But it should recognize that the greater robustness of American capitalism is the source of America's ability to support a larger defense budget.

Europeanized US threatens western alliance

If America becomes as social democratic as Europe, with health and social expenditures absorbing most of government revenues and leaving little for defense, the alliance will be weakened and we'll find out again what happens when we try to get along with despots without arms.

Romney believes in a more assertive moral, military and economic foreign policy for America. He attracts a large following in America that accepts American exceptionalism and is eager to support the defense of democracy around the world.

Compared to Obama, however, Romney draws less support in Europe. That's unfortunate because American leadership in the world has served Europe and other free countries well. On his trip, Romney made clear that that American leadership is once again waiting in the wings.

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