Mitt's Middle East Mirage

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

If only. If only there were magic carpets and genies. Why that messy Middle East would surely bend to a President Mitt Romney's will.  With just one wave of his magic wand the good governor's foreign policy address at VMI was a slapdash jaunt into "make believe" foreign policy -- not a realistic roadmap to a better Middle East.

Long on polemics and short on the very strategy the address claims to extol, Romney's speech reads like a mediocre freshman foreign policy essay restating the obvious -- simplistic, long-winded window dressing masquerading as effective, reasoned strategic policy.

Yes Governor, we all know that Arab world is torn between the forces of tolerance and intolerance. It is no secret that Americans prefer a Middle East that is moderate, open, and tolerant. What exactly would you do to empower moderates so that they could prevail against the Salafists and Islamists? How exactly does the U.S. quash the appeal of extremist Egyptian clerics like Sheikh Qardawi?

Mr. Romney, we all agree the Iranian people yearn for an end to their clerical military dictatorship. And just what, may I humbly ask, would a Romney administration do to accelerate a green revolution in Iran? Inquiring minds want to know!

And when it comes to Persian Gulf gunboat diplomacy I don't see a daylight's worth of difference between what Mr. Romney would do to thwart any possible Iranian nuclear bomb and what President Obama has asserted he would do.

"I will put the leaders of Iran on notice... ," that the U.S. will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons." Is that not what President Obama just reiterated at the United Nations two weeks ago for the umpteenth time? Move more aircraft carriers to the Gulf. Check. There are already two carrier task forces there, with an additional 25 NATO ships supporting us.

Surely, Governor, no one is pleased that Iraq is descending backward into nightmarish misery punctuated by bombings and Shiite autocracy. Your simplistic response: U.S. troops should have remained. Really?! Tell that to an Iraqi Prime Minister determined to get us out of Iraq at all costs.

And as for Libya, for all the chest-pounding (and may I add under-handed) criticism Romney directs at his Democratic opponent for serving up the conditions that led to the assassination of a remarkable American ambassador, Romney can't even offer one iota of an idea how to tilt the odds in favor of Libya's democratic evolution. Would he lead NATO back into Libya? Would he land marines on the shores of Tripoli?  What, pray tell, is his better idea to take the weapons out of the hands of the likes of Ansar al Shuria (the Islamic terrorist group likely responsible for murdering our diplomats) or the militias? What would he do to "lead from the front" in Libya?

And if, as Romney asserts, Al Qaeda remains a challenge throughout the Middle East (again stating the obvious) his meek retort to Obama's reliance on drones to knock off Al Qaeda's franchises is the serially vague call for a "national security strategy in the Middle East." Oh? I like national security strategies, especially good ones. But if Al Qaeda is present in Somalia, North Africa, Mali, Yemen, and Syria what is Governor Romney's new national security strategy?

In other words, where's the beef?

I give Romney one valid acknowledgement in his address. If the Obama administration is indeed vulnerable to partisan criticism, it is on Syria. Romney has a point when he chastises Obama for his administration's lackluster passivity on Syria. The Obama Administration subcontracted Syria policy to its Chicago campaign headquarters (who deemed Syria political kryptonite) rather than commit the NON-MILITARY diplomatic muscle to help shape a post-Assad Syria by forging a more unified opposition. By failing to invest early in shoring up a viable alternative to the regime, the U.S. has squandered popular support and leverage as the violence spills over across the region.

For all the hype and hoopla surrounding its buildup, Romney's speech is ultimately misleading.  It flames out under the cold reality that the "Arab Spring" lids have blown off dictatorial Arab regimes exposing the combustible societies and fault lines underneath. It is inconceivable that a Romney administration could formulate a successful strategy that simply turns the clock back on the Egyptian presidential election so that a more "palatable" leader would have won.

It is just as delusional to assert, as Romney did, that he can forge a Palestinian-Israeli consensus where Obama has failed. Really? Surely, that line was added to the speech almost as an afterthought as if to evidence some badly needed Middle East statesmanship in the face of his previous misstatements and misunderstandings about the "rest in peace" process.

Fatigued by Middle East terrorism, intolerance, and grinding wars, the American people yearn for a Middle East policy that preserves our core strategic interests... not a vacuous Middle East policy that parachutes onto a Middle East map a redacted page torn from a continent and century away Marshall Plan.

If this is the best the Republican national security team around Romney can offer in the way of a viable alternative to current U.S. Middle East policy, consider me unimpressed.

In the annals the State Department folklore, Secretary of State Kissinger was known to send his staff back to the drawing board after they submitted a sensitive policy paper with an admonishment "... is this the best you can do?"
Not realizing that Kissinger was trying to extract an acknowledgement from his harried staff that, indeed, that was their best, the staff would sheepishly go back to the drawing board time and again after having the boss ask the same question over and over again.

Finally, after repeated Kissingerian inquisitions and relentless edits, the evolving policy paper was handed to Kissinger as his staff stood before him. Kissinger looked it over and once again bellowed: "Is this really the best you all can do?" Gamely summoning up their hard-earned conviction, they declared "Yes, this is the best we can do." "Fine," said, Kissinger: "That's what I've been waiting to hear all along!"

If I were Romney I would be asking the same question of the staff that handed him that speech. It cries out for change, revision, improvement, cohesion, accountability, _______ (fill in the blank).      

If it were only that simple!
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