The World According to Mitt

A review of the candidate's foreign-policy stances, which champion U.S. power and values but often are tough to pin down on the details.

For his 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney has appropriated Henry Luce’s famous phrase in calling for the twenty-first century to be “an American Century.” This slogan is plastered all over his website, and he has referred to it often in speeches. In his major foreign-policy address last October at the Citadel, Romney said:

I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century. In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.

Romney’s embrace of the American Century idea as the guiding theme of his foreign policy represents one of the more striking elements that emerges from an expansive review of his campaign statements on U.S. defense policy and international relations. His vision puts the necessity for American power—especially military power—at its core. As described on his website, “The unifying thread of his national security strategy is American strength. When America is strong, the world is safer.”

In talking about the use of force on behalf of American values, Romney often sounds a bit like George W. Bush. As he said in a speech last fall to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “I start with the fundamental conviction that America is the greatest nation in the history of the world and a force for good.” Like other GOP candidates, Romney aggressively embraces the concept of American exceptionalism. At the Citadel, he said: “I believe we are an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world.” This role is “that of a great champion of human dignity and human freedom.”

Romney has regularly blasted President Obama for “hollowing” out America’s defense forces. In contrast, Romney says, he would strengthen U.S. military capabilities by adding one hundred thousand new active-duty military troops; increasing navy shipbuilding from nine to fifteen ships per year; committing to “a robust, multi-layered national ballistic-missile defense system to deter and defend against nuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies”; and modernizing the “aging inventories” of all three military services.

All this will not be cheap. Romney has pledged to set funding for “core” defense—that is, not including ongoing wars—at a “floor of 4 percent of GDP.” He has given no indication as to when this goal might be reached, and one of his spokesmen described the number as a “target.” If taken literally, Cato’s Chris Preble has calculated that based on OMB projections, at these levels the Pentagon would spend an average of $744.8 billion per year over the next ten years—44 percent higher than Obama’s projected budgets and 59 percent higher than under the sequestration scheduled to take effect in December.

On the question of when and where America ought to use military force, Romney consistently has staked out more hawkish positions than the Obama administration, though his stances at times have been somewhat difficult to pin down:

● On Afghanistan, Romney has repeatedly attacked Obama for setting an “arbitrary timetable” for withdrawing U.S. troops. He argues that Obama’s proposed schedule has “no military rationale” and raises questions about whether the timing is “politically inspired.” While this suggests he would keep troops in Afghanistan longer, he has not actually said so. He has promised instead to conduct a full review of Afghan policy and announced that under his leadership, withdrawal “will be based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders.”

● On Iraq, he criticized Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2011 as an “astonishing failure” that “put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.” In an Dec. 18 interview, he said that the United States should have left from ten thousand to thirty thousand personnel there to bolster the Iraqis’ own military capabilities. (It is unclear whether he believes we should have done so even in the absence of a status-of-forces agreement to protect the immunity of U.S. soldiers.)