Huntsman, Romney Dispute Republican Foreign Policy

“Advocating more ships, more troops and more weapons is not a foreign policy.”

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Sun Lakes, Arizona, September 14
Former Massachusetts governor and Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Sun Lakes, Arizona, September 14 (Gage Skidmore)

Republican Party presidential contenders Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney laid out their respective foreign policy visions this week.

Huntsman, a former ambassador to China and foreign policy realist, may appeal to the isolationist streak in the populist Tea Party movement whereas Romney’s more traditionally conservative worldview of American exceptionalism and engagement should endear him to establishment Republicans who are wary of the mantra of American decline.

“God did not create this country to be a nation of followers,” Romney told cadets at a military college in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday. He criticized Democrat Barack Obama for pursuing a multilateralist foreign policy that seems aimed at establishing the United States as a first among equals in a world where Brazil, China, Europe and India are equal stakeholders.

According to the former Massachusetts governor, “America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers.”

To ensure American superpower into the twenty-first century, Romney called for a reversal of the president’s “massive defense cuts,” urged the stationing of an aircraft carrier task force off Iran to dissuade it from weaponizing its nuclear potential and pledged to “secure our gains and complete our mission successfully” in Afghanistan.

The candidate suggested that he might slow the retreat of American forces from Afghanistan, vowing to “receive the best recommendation of our military commanders” about the pace of withdrawal. President Obama, he suggested, allowed politics to influence his war decision by scheduling the drawdown to coincide with his reelection campaign.

Huntsman, who, along with Romney, is perceived as a moderate Republican presidential contender, distinguished himself sharply from the rest of the field by advocating a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan altogether. He reiterated that position in New Hampshire on Monday, an early primary state where Huntsman, who has otherwise failed to gain traction in the polls, hopes to do well.

We cannot social engineer other countries. We can’t even social engineer our own inner cities. It is cultural arrogance to think we can make tribal leaders into democratic leaders.

Instead of spilling blood and treasure in Afghanistan, the United States should engage East and South Asia “through partnerships and trade agreements” and prepare to lead in a “Pacific century,” Huntsman said. Barack Obama expressed a similar goal when he took office but his China policy of “strategic reassurance” doesn’t appear to have changed Chinese posturing for the better.

Huntsman and Romney both criticized the Obama Administration for failing to speak out on human rights abuses in the Asian nation. “Our relationship with China has been a transactional one for forty years,” according to the Huntsman. “We buy their products. They buy our bonds.”

But for a truly healthy relationship, we need to infuse the relationship with shared values.

Whereas Huntsman stresses economic partnerships and trade, Romney was a bit more hawkish in his support for a strong military force.

According to a foreign policy white paper released in conjunction with his speech, Romney would seek to increase the navy’s shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 percent per year and modernize or replace the aging inventories of the other armed services.

And he will fully commit to a robust, multilayered national ballistic missile defense system to deter and defend against nuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies.

“Simply advocating more ships, more troops and more weapons is not a viable path forward,” Huntsman retorted this week. “We need more agility, more intelligence and more economic engagement with the world,” he said. Conservative lawmakers worry that defense spending may be cut too deeply though.

Former defense secretary Robert Gates identified between $350 and $400 billion in potential savings over the next decade before leaving office this summer. $330 billion had already been cut from future procurement programs in 2009 while last year, another $78 billion was sliced from the Pentagon’s budget. General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate confirmation hearing in July that it would be “extraordinary difficult and very high risk” for the Defense Department to cut more. “National security didn’t cause the debt crisis nor will it solve it,” he told lawmakers. There, the Republican candidates agree.