US election 2012: What happens if Mitt Romney wins?
The Mormon former governor of the state of Massachusetts arrived on the world stage like the new, gangly but oversized kid on the block – picking on the hated bullies (China, Iran) while standing up for the littler guy (Israel), but otherwise keeping his nose out of others’ business.
At least that’s one way of looking at it. The other is that Romney, pandering to the fringe Tea Party elements of his Republican family, is picking on the nearest scapegoat foreigner (China), acting cliquey with his oldest friend (Israel), and generally retreating back into a Fortress America mentality.
It’s this second point of view that has much of the world, particularly Britain and Europe, nervously monitoring Romney’s increasingly hawkish and populist rhetoric.
On China, he’s unleashed a slew of ads blasting Beijing for manipulating its currency, propping up its exporters and stealing American jobs. On Iran, he’s suggested that he would back his old work colleague, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the point of war. He once called Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe”.
And he recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that US Middle East policy must be founded on a restoration of American “military strength” – a few days before, Romney said he’d consider sending in troops to Syria if President Bashar al-Assad resorted to using chemical weapons against his people.
His only meagre attempt at transatlantic rapprochement included a rather questionable (and arguably racist) appeal by his campaign to the US-British “Anglo-Saxon” bond and a pledge to move a bust of Winston Churchill back into the Oval Office. For what it’s worth, Winnie’s bust currently resides in the First Family’s living quarters.
As for Romney’s sole overseas diplomatic foray, he made few friends by questioning London’s preparedness for the Olympics and accusing the Palestinian people of cultural inferiority and sloth.
From recent events, you could believe that a President Romney would have but one true friend in the world: Israel. The rest of the world – like the 47 per cent of the American electorate Romney was secretly videotaped remarking on – could well be too much bother. This attitude should rightfully worry foreign leaders and readers.
Yet Mitt Romney is not quite the harrumphing American isolationist his gaffe-prone statements make him out to be. Like many who’ve come before him, Romney is merely performing in that uniquely American piece of theatre known as electoral posturing.
He is not, for instance, the first American presidential wannabe to pick a campaign fight with a foreign power – it was Japan in the 1980s – only to back away from his threats once in office. Considering China is far and away America’s largest trading partner and holds no less than $1.15 trillion in US government debt, it’s no wonder many American pundits have labelled Romney’s anti-China push as mere empty bluster.
In Europe, a President Romney may still give Putin a well deserved cold shoulder, but his “number one geopolitical enemy” quip would quickly be stamped out by his State Department team. He may even discover a surprising ally in German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Europe’s growing club of austerity cheerleaders.
On more than one occasion the American press has actually compared Romney’s budget-slashing proposals to European austerity programmes. He won’t, however, run into many fans at the European Union or United Nations, especially not after this recent comment made on an American television news programme: “I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet. I’m in this race to help the American people.”
He’s not a climate change denialist like some in his party, but he’s also not particularly globally minded, it seems. Simply take Israel and Palestine. Where US presidents pay lip service to a peaceful, two-state solution, Romney himself admitted to a roomful of top Republican donors that he’d rather “kick the ball down the field and hope that ult-imately, somehow, something will happen to resolve it”.
It’s here in the Middle East – specifically the 1,550km of tense space separating Jerusalem and Tehran – that a Romney presidency could do the most damage. Despite nominally supporting President Obama’s economic sanctions against Iran, Romney is considered far more amenable to Netanyahu’s increasingly braying calls for military action, including, some believe, a secret reactor-busting bombing raid.
Interestingly, Romney has surrounded himself with many of the same foreign policy advisers – brute-force neocons, many of them – who advised President Bill Clinton (unsuccessfully) and President George W Bush (successfully) to invade Iraq on the pretense that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.
There is little doubt that Iran is, in fact, developing a nuclear weapons capability, so just imagine what those same advisers are currently peddling to Romney. The candidate himself has, to be fair, contributed to his own tough guy aura with a “no apologies” mantra – adopted even in response to a recent American-made anti-Islamic film portraying the prophet Muhammad as a gay, womanising paedophile.
If being a strong leader means never apologising or acknowledging the Arab world’s long-stewing resentments, then what hope is there for Middle East peace? Or for the shared “common principles” that President Obama talked about in Cairo, back in 2009?
Regardless of what Israel and the United States ultimately decide to do about Iran, a Romney presidency still risks fostering a string of loveless and prickly relations throughout the world. Notwithstanding the possibility of a surprise overseas charm offensive in his opening days of office – which will more likely be spent pushing the Republicans’ no-holds-barred budget through Congress – Romney would start off as one of the least-liked American leaders abroad. Ever.
Although, to be honest, the bar is set rather low, with only 12 of 20 countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project favouring a second term for Obama. But is the bar low enough for Mitt Romney?
By Andre Tartar