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Mitt Romney talks tough on Iran and promises a close friendship with Israel. He promotes the United States as an exceptional nation that should lead with military strength and assertiveness. Kojo explores Romney’s philosophy on foreign policy and examines whether a Romney State Department would include policies and people from prior Republican administrations.
- Mohsen Milani Professor of Politics and Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies, University of South Florida
- Josh Rogin Staff Writer, Foreign Policy magazine; author of The Cable blog at Foreign Policy
- David Trads Washington Bureau Chief, Berlingske newspaper; and Radio Host, GLOBUS-USA, Radio24/7
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 and live from WMMF in Tampa, Fla., welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, how Republicans are wooing Northern Virginia voters in that key battleground state.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, what would the world look like if Mitt Romney were president? Romney says he'd get tough with China on his first day in office by declaring it a currency manipulator and threatening to add tariffs to Chinese imports so they're not cheaper than American goods. He wouldn't tolerate a nuclear Iran and he would forge stronger ties with Israel.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut observers wonder how much of his foreign policy rhetoric is the bluster of campaigning rather than the basis for governing? Once he was in office, would Romney follow the lead of the last Republican president, promoting strong American leadership around the world or would he take a more moderate and pragmatic approach?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs Republicans prepare to put Mitt Romney at the top of their ticket, we explore what a Romney foreign policy would look like. And joining us in studios in Tampa, Fla. is Josh Rogin, staff writer for Foreign Policy magazine and author of "The Cable" blog, Josh, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOSH ROGINThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Mohsen Milani, he is a professor of politics and executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida, Mohsen, thank you for joining us.
MR. MOHSEN MILANIIt's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAnd David Trads is here. He is Washington bureau chief of Berlingske newspaper and radio host of GLOBUS-USA Radio 24/7. David Trads, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID TRADSThanks for having me.
NNAMDIThis is a conversation we're inviting you to join by calling us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIJosh Mitt Romney talks about America as an exceptional nation that should lead from a position of strength. How would you describe his view of America's role in the world?
ROGINRight. So the Romney campaign has chosen a few issues to focus on when talking about foreign policy, noting that they've made foreign policy a lower priority in their campaign rhetoric than the economy and some other issues. One of the themes he focuses on is this idea that America is facing a decline around the world in terms of its power and influence and that Barack Obama has been presiding either willfully or by neglect over this period of American decline, something that his advisory team disagrees on internally, in fact.
ROGINPart of this is the message that America is an exceptionalist country and has a special role in the world and a special role in promoting its values around the world. Now President Obama has said that every country believes it is exceptional. The Dutch believe that they're exceptional. The British believe that they're exceptional.
ROGINSo they're both right. Of course, America has a special role and, of course, every country believes it is special. But this is part of the Romney campaign's rhetoric in the sense that they're saying that Obama has led from behind, has relied too much on multi-lateral institutions and has forgotten the traditional role of American leadership in international affairs. And we can talk about whether or not that is accurate.
NNAMDIMohsen, how would you characterize Mitt Romney's view of America's role in the world?
MILANII think Mr. Romney's foreign policy paradigm is as much a mystery to me as his past tax returns are. We really do not know a great deal about what he will do. He has talked about few specific cases, but I have not seen any coherent paradigm, a sort of a grand vision that he has presented.
MILANIOf course, I don't blame him. He doesn't have a great deal of foreign policy experience and the problem is that in the post-Cold War period, there is no bipartisan consensus about foreign policy and that is going to be the single greatest challenge he is going to have.
MILANIThe single most important question about his foreign policy is that will he side with the traditionalist, realist, international, liberal interventionist or will he side with the neo-conservatives in his party? In other words, will he repeat what President Bush, 43, did during his first term?
NNAMDIThat's siding with the neo-cons?
MILANIThe neo-cons, which means that the U.S. will have a much more interventionist foreign policy or will he side with the traditional realists such as Mr. Baker or Mr. Powell? This is the key question.
NNAMDIAnd he hasn't given you any real signals of either one as yet?
MILANIIf I had to guess, I would say he would go with the neo-conservatives precisely because the base of the Republican Party which has energized the party is much closer to the neo-conservative ideology than it is to the realist ideology.
NNAMDIAs a Danish journalist, David, how do you think Europeans would feel about a new Republican president, a Mitt Romney presidency, and how it would affect the relationship between the U.S. and Europe?
TRADSWell, first of all, Kojo, Europeans always prefer by instinct a Democrat as a president no matter who it is basically and President Obama is extremely popular. And if he were to run in Europe, he would get something, somewhere between 70 or 80 percent of the votes. So Europeans would always prefer a Democrat as a president.
TRADSThey fear a Republican as a president because they fear that what he says in this campaign is also what he is going to do, in other words, just like Mohsen just said, he might be a neo-con. He might be someone like George W. Bush who divided Europe. They hope, of course, that he won't, that it turns out that he will be much more of a pragmatist, a realist once he becomes president, much more like the first President Bush, that Europeans actually liked and not like the second President Bush that most Europeans strongly disliked.
NNAMDISame question that Mohsen just weighed in on to you, Josh Rogin, whether or not you think that Mitt Romney would emerge as a neo-conservative or a closet realist who would tow the traditional Republican line on foreign policy?
ROGINSure. I actually think that we have a lot of clues about this. First of all, we need to say that campaigning is different than governing. In other words, on the campaign trail, it doesn't really pay off to follow Barack Obama's sort of realist foreign policy because it's hard to draw a distinction.
ROGINSo the issues that Mitt Romney and his campaign have chosen to focus on in this election represent more of a neo-con aggressive policy because that's the only way they can draw a distinction with the Obama campaign on certain issues like Iran and Israel, et cetera.
ROGINWhen you get into the details of what he proposes in places like Syria, Afghanistan and other parts of the world, Pakistan, it's a very realist approach and close to the Obama administration's policy. Of course, they don't talk about that.
ROGINThe second thing I would point to is that we can...
NNAMDIBut before you go any further -- because when you say it's close to the Obama administration policy, it reminds me of the statement you made earlier that there is internal disagreement in his foreign policy advisory group. Does the disagreement fall along those specific lines?
ROGINIn some ways, yes and in some ways, no. So we have Mitt Romney's two top advisors in Afghanistan have totally different views on what the foreign policy in Afghanistan should be. Those two top advisors have very little access to the political leadership of the campaign in Boston, which is making decisions on a more political level.
ROGINSo you have a split between Boston and Washington. You have a split within the Washington advisory team. And you also a greater split inside the Republican Party.
ROGINLet's remember here that the Republican Party has been battling in Washington, in Congress on this issue between the realists and the more aggressive hawks for a couple of years now. So people don't really talk about it that much, but it's a very serious thing. And Mitt Romney, again, as a candidate, tried to bring a broad tent of experts into his camp and doesn't feel it necessary to choose between one camp or the other right now.
ROGINIt just doesn’t really make a lot of sense for him. Now, if we look at it after the election, we'll see that he has different advisors to implement his foreign policy after -- if he's elected. That team is led by Bob Zoellick, a very staunch realist, a former World Bank president and so this gives watchers a clue that maybe he will take a more realist approach if and when he's elected.
ROGINBut again, campaigning is different from governing so it makes more sense for him to have a more neo-conservative rhetoric at this time.
NNAMDIWhat signals are you getting from Mitt Romney on foreign policy? You can call us at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Josh Rogin. He's a staff writer for Foreign Policy magazine and author of "The Cable" blog. Mohsen Milani is a professor of politics and executive director of the Center of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida. He joins us in studio along with David Trads. He's a Danish journalist and the Washington bureau chief of Berlingske newspaper and radio host of GLOBUS-USA and radio 24/7.
NNAMDIYou can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. Mohsen, I also got the impression that you wanted to weigh in some more on this issue.
MILANIWell, I think another factor that you must consider regarding your question where Romney will lead during his first term in office should he win is that the moment he wins the election, if he does, he's going to be concerned about his re-election and it is very unlikely for him to get re-elected without appeasing the neo-conservatives, a faction of his party.
MILANITherefore, if I had to bet, I would say it is very likely that he would be leaning much more toward the neo-conservatives than he would lean toward the traditional realist or as you call them, closet-realists.
NNAMDIDavid Trads, are you seeing any signals at all that Europeans would be either concerned about or, well, I guess ,placated about?
TRADSWell, Europeans, all governments in Europe, are concerned about Republican presidents for a number of reasons and I think the number one reason is that Republicans as presidents tend to do more, you know, say more often that we can do it by ourselves. We don't need Europe. We don't need to discuss it with you. We don't need to ask your advice. We'll just go ahead and do whatever we feel like.
TRADSSo Europeans are always, by instinct, European leaders, European presidents and prime ministers always by instinct afraid that if a Republican becomes president, then they are sort of left out of the loop on foreign policy. And I think this, of course, was very strongly seen during President George W. Bush where he managed basically to divide Europe.
TRADSAnd that's the fear that Europe has that it will again be possible for an American president, if Romney wins, to divide Europe on some of the important issues, most importantly, of course, the Middle East, Iran, Israel. Those issues are issues where European leaders really don't want division. They want negotiation. They want diplomacy for a much longer time than it seems like Mitt Romney would want to.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned Iran because we got a tweet from Seena who asks, "What are the policy differences between Obama and Romney when it comes to Iran's nuclear program, if any?" Care to start, Josh Rogin?
ROGINSure. So first of all, we should say that both President Obama and Mitt Romney support using all diplomatic options, if at all possible, to avoid a military confrontation with Iran and reserving the right to use a military option as the last resort.
ROGINThe difference is not in substance, the difference is in tone. Mitt Romney blames the Obama administration for not having the "credible" military threat. He doesn't believe that the Iranians believe that Obama would use military force. He looks back and says diplomacy was not and sanctions were not used strongly enough, fast enough, effectively enough in a comprehensive enough way.
ROGINSo it's a matter of Romney making the competence argument, him making the peace through strength argument, which is the theme of his national security campaign and basically saying that working closer with allies like Israel would make the military threat more credible as a means of avoiding using it.
ROGINHe also supports Israel's right to strike unilaterally, perhaps without American permission or even American notification, something that the Obama administration has, behind the scenes, opposed strenuously because they believe that would be extremely destabilizing.
NNAMDIBut one has to wonder whether in the wake of the Iraq war, any American president would take lightly the issue of striking against a country that has not attacked the United States. Mohsen.
MILANIWell, I think the -- I agree with Josh, but I want to add one important element and that is the chances of a military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran or Israel and Iran is more under a Romney administration than it would be under an Obama administration.
MILANII think the major difference that I see between what Mr. Romney has suggested and what President Obama has actually done is minimal. Mr. Romney has talked about a number of things that it is very difficult for him to actually implement. For example, he has talked about not allowing Mr. Ahmadinejad to travel to other capitals of the world or to indict him for incitement to genocide. That kind of stuff I don't take anything seriously but the essence -- the fundamental difference between Obama and Romney is that Obama is less likely to start a war with Iran than Romney is.
NNAMDIHere is Moez (sp?) in Hyattsville, Md. Moez, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOEZYes, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I just want to mention besides the Democrat and the Republican about the foreign policy, there is a system in our country dictate some policy. I mean, when it comes to Israel, Democrat or Republican, they have nothing to offer because we have a lot here going on in your country, the Israel lobby.
MOEZAnd when it comes to Guantanamo even, our president did promise -- Obama, I mean, which I vote for him -- and he never kept his promise. Because there is other forces inside the country -- I would call them a system. A president come clean and wants -- full of ambition and then boom, he got inside the system and all of a sudden, he's not the person we know. That's what I want to add to this discussion.
NNAMDIWhat do you see as being those forces in the system that you did not name, Moez?
MOEZWhat will be these forces?
NNAMDIWho are these forces in the system that dictate what a president, regardless of whether he is Republican or Democrat, will or will not do?
MOEZOh, I mean, that is to say, the army -- I mean, the Pentagon and the contractor with the Pentagon. I mean, those people -- the contractor, they want always war to happen outside so they can sell their tanks and aircraft. And, you know, and those people, they don't have interest in having peace in the world because they don't make money. And that is...
NNAMDIMoez, that may be a topic for another conversation. What may certainly be a topic for this conversation is whether, in fact, the president, regardless of which party he comes from, has to look at certain constituencies in the United States before he makes those kinds of decisions about foreign policy. Is that correct, Josh?
ROGINSure, and this is where I would take the opportunity to disagree a little bit with the professor. This is why I think that Mitt Romney, who has a very neoconservative or aggressive rhetoric, as president would be forced to be a little bit more realist. The bottom line here is that the ship of U.S. foreign policy is an aircraft carrier. It doesn't turn on a dime. You have to point it slowly and then over years the path adjusts.
ROGINAnd so we saw President Obama come in on a very sort of liberal foreign policy platform of getting out of Iraq and closing Guantanamo. And he had some success and some failure. And he was definitely influenced by lobbying interests, the defense industry, especially congress which represents the two that I just mentioned. In the same way Mitt Romney will come in. His first mandate will be to fix the economy. That will require him to recognize the nation as war weary and will not be up for new military interventions.
ROGINAnd the bottom line is that there will be a lot of continuity and a lot of major U.S. foreign policy no matter who's president because of all the institutional...
NNAMDIWell, let's take another situation. David Trads, yesterday the French President Francois Hollande called on the U.S. and the rest of the world to recognize a shadow government in Syria to speed up the fall of President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. declined to endorse Hollande's proposal. How is that likely to be viewed in Europe? And I'll ask the other guests, how would Romney likely respond to the same situation? But first you, David.
TRADSWell, I think it's interesting to see what Europe says when Europe talks about Syria because this is a typical example of European impotence in many ways. Because Europe wants to do something in Syria. You hear politicians say, we need to do something, but they don't know what they should do. So this is a very typical example of a European leader who is afraid of what to do basically. He is asking for more efforts -- more diplomatic efforts, more discussion, more endless discussion sometimes, people will even see it as.
TRADSBecause Europe can't do anything in Syria by itself. Europe can't do anything in Iran by itself. Europe couldn't do anything in Libya by itself. It needs the United States. So this is typical. Hollande needs to get the help from the U.S. in order to get his own policy through. Any European leader understands that he can't have his own foreign policy. The foreign policy is dictated by whoever's president in the U.S. So that's -- I think this is a typical example of that.
NNAMDIAnd how would a Mitt Romney respond? Barack Obama's Administration declined to endorse Hollande's proposal. How do you think a Mitt Romney might respond in a similar situation, Mohsen?
MILANII think what President Obama has done in Syria is as good as it gets. And the reason why I say that is because a lot of people believe in shooting first and then asking questions later, as with -- in Iraq. What is important about Syria is that should there be a security or political vacuum when Bashar al-Assad's regime collapses, most likely we're going to see a devastating sectarian civil war in Syria.
MILANITherefore, I think it is very prudent that we move slowly, gradually to create the conditions where Assad is removed from power. Assad is a corrupt dictator. He must go. He will go but the key issue is how do we make him go without creating the same kind of mess we had in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's removal? Keep in mind, the single greatest mistake the U.S. made in Iraq, in my judgment, was to dissolve the Iraqi army. Once that army was dissolved a security and political vacuum was created. And that allowed the terrorists and the troublemakers to take advantage of that vacuum and create chaos in Iraq. We do not want to make the same mistake in Syria.
MILANII don't think a Romney Administration would act very differently than what Mr. Obama has in Syria.
NNAMDIWhich brings us to the point that you were making earlier, Josh Rogin, and that is what we are hearing now is campaign rhetoric as opposed to political and foreign policy reality.
ROGINRight. So, first of all, I don't think Iraq is the best analogy for Syria. I think although the administration will often say Syria's not Libya, it's starting a lot to look like the path of events that took place in Libya. In other words, an indigenous revolution that is going on and that we can't slow and we can't stop, whether or not we participate. The question is, how much do we want to help them and how much do we want to get involved.
ROGINAlso pressure from Europe on the Obama Administration, which is resisting intervention, especially before the election, the White House does not want to start this two months before the people have to go to the polls. It's not what they want to campaign on and neither does the Romney campaign. But what are we seeing? We're seeing that the rebels are increasing their control of their land. The tipping point is coming and calls for no fly zones are increasing.
ROGINAnd neither the Romney campaign nor the Obama Administration is going to be able to stop the acceleration and the escalation of the crisis in Syria as it gets worse and worse on a daily basis. And that's the reality. Now, the Mitt Romney campaign brass tacks opposes a no-fly zone right now. That could change. I've heard advisors say that Mitt Romney supports arming the rebels, drawing a distinction from the Obama Administration. Romney hasn't said that. Again, the Republican Party's totally split on intervention and Miss Romney doesn't want to alienate either half of it.
ROGINBut the bottom line is that U.S. is not driving events in Syria. The Syrians are driving the events and pressure from Europe is increasing. And both sides would like to not address this before the election. They both may be disappointed and forced to confront this.
TRADSYeah, I just think it's important if you look at this from a European point of view, the Europeans always want diplomacy to continue of course. But then if they look at what's happening in the U.S. right now with this presidential election then they think, what if these diplomatic activities don't result in the result that we want and don't lead to the result that we want? Then what would Obama do? He would most likely continue diplomatic efforts nevertheless, whereas a Romney would be quicker to act, quicker to intervene. And that's what basically scares Europeans governments.
NNAMDIWell, if we're talking about European governments and how they look at the situation in Syria, how about their view of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel? Mitt Romney accuses President Obama of not forging a close enough relationship with Israel. How would Europeans respond to a Romney presidency in which he would be arguing for a closer relationship between the U.S. and Israel?
TRADSWell, I think Europeans are much more nuanced when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. European countries are never as closely aligned with Israel as Americans are. They tend to have as much discussions and as much meetings with -- for instance, they used to have lots of meetings with Syrian leadership. So they have a much more nuanced view of this and they really don't like it if American presidents tend to be 110 or with Mitt Romney's case maybe even 200 percent behind a right wing Israeli government.
NNAMDIWhat, Mohsen, is your view about how a Romney presidency would deal differently with the tensions between Israel and Palestinians than the Obama Administration?
MILANINot fundamentally. I think both gentlemen have a very pro Israel foreign policy. And that has been the foundation of American foreign policy for the past few decades. So I don't see any fundamental change in their overall approach. However, I think under a Romney Administration you are going to see less opposition from the United States regarding the settlements in the -- in Palestine or occupied territory or whatever you want to call them. And then you also are going to see a greater pressure on countries like Turkey and Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood not to take anti-Israeli stance.
MILANIBut these are minor problems. Overall I think there would be continuity in American foreign policy toward Israel because Israel is America's closest ally in the Middle East. And I simply don't see any major change in American foreign policy...
NNAMDIWhat say you, Josh Rogin?
ROGINWell, actually we heard about this directly from Mitt Romney when he went to Jerusalem and made a big show of it. And he drew some sharp distinctions. He said he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, something that a lot of presidential candidates have promised, but no president has implemented. He said he wouldn't leave any space between the U.S. Administration and the Israeli Administration.
ROGINHe's criticizing Obama for the tactic of placing pressure on the Netanyahu Administration as a means of kick starting direct negotiations. Now, would his strategy or Obama's strategy be more likely to lead to a comprehensive Middle East peace? It's impossible to tell because of course in the last six years no strategy has resulted in real progress towards that goal.
ROGINBut the idea here is that the Obama Administration took a risk -- a political risk that they've paid a heavy price for by being tougher on the Netanyahu Administration. And the Romney campaign is ceasing on that with donors, with interest groups. And they're using that, especially here in Florida, to influence voters. And the Obama Administration's very sensitive about that and this is a big issue. And in that sense there is a clear distinction.
ROGINNow, again, campaigning is different than governing, but the bottom line is that we're all living in the wake of the failed process of the Obama Administration to kick start these negotiations. And it doesn't look like there's an opportunity for new negotiations in the near term. So Romney's approach to just hug the Netanyahu Administration seems like a departure and probably would be what he would implement if and when he were chosen to...
NNAMDIAnd, David, finally there's this, because we mentioned it at the top of the show. Romney has said that on day one of his presidency he would identify China as a currency manipulator. What effect would that have on American trade with China and China's trade with the rest of the world?
TRADSWell, if that really is to happen, if a President Romney would declare that China is a currency manipulator than it would have huge effects on the world economy. It would, in reality, create a trade war that nobody wants I assume. And nobody wants it in America. Nobody wants it in China. And I can say for sure that nobody wants it in Europe. The European economy is, as we all know, in dire straits. And the worst thing that could basically happen would be a trade war between two or three of the biggest economies of the world.
TRADSSo that would have a huge effect. And I think that's the one thing that when I talk to European politicians that they are the most afraid of, that would be a trade war with China.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. David Trads is a Danish journalist. He is Washington Bureau Chief of Berlingske newspaper and radio host of Global USA Radio 24/7. David, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIMohsen Milani is professor of politics and executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida. Mohsen Milani, thank you so much for joining us.
MILANIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Jose Rogin is staff writer for Foreign Policy magazine and author of the Cable blog. Josh Rogin, thank you for joining us.
ROGINGreat to be with you.
NNAMDIWhen we come back Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, director of Virginia Governor Bob McDonald's Virginia Liaison office in Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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