Mitt Romney, who has had trouble differentiating his foreign policy agenda from President Obama’s, gave a speech at the Virginia Military Institute that was designed to draw a contrast between his position and the President’s. Despite some sharp rhetorical criticism, however, Romney failed to develop new policy ideas that were meaningfully distinguishable from current Administration policy. The lack of meaningful difference was particularly evident on four issues:
1. Afghanistan. Romney pledged he would “will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.” This is precisely the same position the current Administration takes. Romney surrogates have been unable to point to one specific difference between Obama and Romney on our largest ongoing war.
2. Syria. Romney endorsed providing military aid through relevant third party states: “I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.” The Obama Administration has already approved the provision of assistance to Syrian rebels through friendly Arab states.3. Iran. Romney said he would “put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.” President Obama said that “four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is what we have done.” Romney also pledged to “restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region,” but the US is already maintaining a carrier group in the Gulf.
4. Free trade. Romney, arguing that “The President has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years,” pledged to increase a push toward trade agreements. Obama has signed new free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, and Romney didn’t specify what new agreements would be passed in a Romney Administration.
Indeed, much of Romney’s speech — like his pledge to “tighten the sanctions [on Iran] we currently have” — were too vague to constitute meaningful promises to make policy shifts. This is in keeping with Romney’s general “doesn’t want to really engage” view about challenging the President’s policy record on international affairs.