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Posts tagged ‘Mitt Romney’

Mitt Romney Was Not an Awful Candidate

By Taylor Marvin

With the election over, it’s time for the post-mortem. How did Republicans fail to unseat an incumbent hampered by a nearly 8 percent unemployment rate? You can get lost in explanations for the Republican’s defeat for days: blatant voter suppression encouraged turnout from the very groups it was designed to suppress, demographic changes make the Republican Party’s near-total focus on a white, elderly core increasingly untenable, conservative media’s taken the Republican Party hostage, a hawkish foreign policy alienated war-weary voters, or a zealots focus on denying basic human rights just doesn’t win votes anymore. These are all good arguments, and worth serious consideration by conservatives.

One argument that I’ve seen on both sides is more topical: that Mitt Romney was a singularly bad candidate who lost an otherwise winnable election. I don’t buy it. Mitt Romney wasn’t a great candidate, and was certainly hurt by what appears to have been a horribly mismanaged and overconfident campaign, but he wasn’t an awful one. As a reasonably successful single-term governor with private sector managerial experience Romney brought a solid resume to his campaign; certainly a stronger one than his primary competitors, or for that matter the competitors in the 2008 Democratic primary. His personal carisma and public demeanor were lacking, but that particular deficiency hasn’t doomed other campaigns.

Given the changing American electorate, it’s hard to see who could have done a better job than Mitt Romney. More successful and charismatic conservative politicians would have likely had an even greater problem attracting independent voters. An attempt to attract non-white voters by nominating a person of color would have been hugely patronizing, even if the the GOP had a suitably experienced non-white politician to run. Bobby Jindal would have been problematic for his deep South governorship, and Marco Rubio and Nikki Haley too inexperienced for a 2012 run. Romney’s history at Bain Capital opened him up to (justifiable) attacks, but it was a weakness a more competent campaign should have overcome.

The problem with the Romney campaign wasn’t Romney himself, but the party he represented. Romney constantly lied and changed his positions not because he’s pathological, but because it was required — there’s simply no way the policy positions required to clear the Republican primary are at all palatable to the general electorate. Sure, Democratic politicians move to the center after their primaries — no one believed Obama would actually renegotiate NAFTA — but the distance between Republican primary voters and the median is much greater than on the left. There was simply no way for Romney to pander to both the Republican base and the moderates he needed to capture to win in swing states.

In another world Romney could have won. In the absence of Tea Party rejectionism Romneycare would have been seen an admirable success, achieving universal healthcare along conservative, free market principles. Instead, Romney was forced to disown his only real legislative achievement, and main claim to bipartisanship. Romney’s governorship of a liberal state, untempered by his “severe conservatism” would have stood a chance at appealing to independents. In a less fundamentalist GOP Mitt Romney would not have made the hugely regrettable decision to oppose the Obama administration’s rescue of the auto industry, and his belligerence towards Iran would not have alienated voters.

Romney was no reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, but he shouldn’t have had to have been. Parties always hope for miraculous wonder candidates who dazzle the nation with their carisma, but Reagans, Clintons, and 2008 Obamas are rare, and parties shouldn’t rely on them being available each election cycle. The personal qualities of individual candidates are important, but pale compared to the party’s fundamentals. If the GOP can’t alter these, even wonder candidates won’t help them.

What’s on the Second Term Foreign Policy Agenda?

By Taylor Marvin

Congratulations rural Pakistanis! Not to worry, the drone strike that just killed you was ordered by a Democratic president!

That’s not to say Barack Obama’s reelection isn’t worth celebrating, even from a strict foreign policy perspective. Mitt Romney’s inability to complete routine feel-good foreign tours without pissing off entire host countries and overwhelming unpopularity abroad hinted a Romney administration’s relations with allies would be rocky, and his fundamentally hawkish worldview suggested that he would be more likely to, intentionally or inadvertently, lead the US into a costly war. Barack Obama is also more open to rational defense cuts than Romney, who insisted on growing military spending for no reason beyond ill-defined ideals of “strength” — and Virginia Electoral College votes.

While it is a mistake to insist that there is no difference between an Obama and Romney administrations’ foreign policy, they, of course, share the same broad political philosophy: both favor American intervention into foreign conflicts while shying away from unpopular, electorally-damaging boots-on-the-ground wars; both judge the immediate benefits of counter-terror drone strikes to be worth their long-term perception costs; and both have expressed an inability to concede to the end of American global hegemony, especially in the Western Pacific. Of course, blaming the candidates — or parties — for this shared consensus is putting the cart before the horse; the Democrats and Republicans share the same broad national security platform because it is popular. In the aftermath of Iraq most voters may shy away from blatant neoconservative talk, but as the Obama administration’s war in Libya shows, interventions are palatable to the public, if they come at low enough direct cost. For all the protests of libertarians drone strikes are popular, because Americans fear terrorism and really don’t care about civilian casualties abroad.

So the drone strikes and broad interpretation of the American military’s role in the world are here to stay. This shouldn’t be a shock, and isn’t a reason to support a third party. American third parties on the left are deeply amateurish, and libertarians are worse: Conor Friedersdorf’s protest vote for Gary Johnson on civil liberties only illustrates that he cares more about hundreds of Pakistanis killed in drone strikes than the hundreds of thousands of needless deaths repealing Obamacare and an austerity-driven recession would cause among his own country’s poor. Foreign policy rarely changes in meaningful ways between administrations not because “both parties are the same”, but because their consensus is popular, to the extent that the electorate cares. This isn’t to say bold policymakers can’t dramatically shift US foreign policy, but the path dependency and electoral considerations that guide their actions are very limiting.

But what does this mean for Obama’s second term? The administration will be unlikely to meaningfully deviate from the course set during Obama’s first term: drone strikes will continue, and the administration may pursue a low-cost intervention — think Libya, not Syria — if the opportunity presents itself. But a second term does offer Obama the opportunity to devote more time to foreign policy issues. Second term presidents usually focus on foreign affairs more than during their first term, when their domestic agenda dominates. This will be especially true for Obama. Barring a conservative come to God moment, Republicans in Congress will likely double down on obstructionism, a tactic that conservatives will perceive to be validated by expected low turnout midterm election gains in 2014. Given this obstructionism, the Obama administration is unlikely to successfully pursue any major domestic goals, like a comprehensive climate change package that included a carbon tax.

So where could the Obama administration turn its attention? An Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is a non-starter; the division in the Palestinian government, Israel’s move to the right, and the US’ deteriorating ability to position itself as an ‘honest broker’ make progress unlikely. Obama gives every indication of ignoring Latin America in his second term as much as he did during his first; to be fair, it’s not clear what real good an increased US presence in the region would bring. US-Russian relations are chilly, but unlikely to improve. Worse, Obama is also unlikely to meaningfully alter America’s policy towards China; the administration’s largely meaningless Asia Pivot means that the mixed strategy of both engagement and containment — with all of its problems — will continue. This is a major disappointment, and positive action by Obama towards China would be a pleasant surprise.

One rational goal for Obama’s second term would be pursuing an accord with Iran. Obama is better positioned than any recent president to successfully improve the US-Iranian relationship.  George W. Bush sacrificed the prospect of any worthwhile diplomacy with his pointless “Axis of Evil” speech and the invasion of Iraq, and Clinton’s dual containment policy, while justified by Iran’s support for terrorism, only maintained the status quo. Domestically, Obama’s record of brutal sanctions buys him political cover to offer a real carrot to the Iranian regime, which is a required part of any successful deal. Though I believe that these sanctions are ultimately damaging to the prospect of favorable long-term change within Iranian society, they are also another potential carrot.

The prospect of progress on the Iranian side is less certain. Openness to dialog on the Iranian side is not enough: after all, in the late 1990s Khatami was open to reforming the US-Iranian relationship, but was unable to overcome conservative opposition within the Iranian regime and ended his tenure with little influence. Today it’s unclear if there is anyone within the regime willing to pursue a Grand Bargain, or if they can outmaneuver conservatives. However, the tensions between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, as well as Ahmadinejad’s impending departure, suggest that the situation within the Iranian government is more fluid than any time since the 2009 election. Whether this is a positive sign remains to be seen.

Also important is Obama’s perceived opposition to military strikes. Barack Obama is less likely to initiate strikes than a Romney presidency would have been, and less likely to cooperate with an Israeli attempt to coerce the US by launching a military strike unilaterally, and then calling for US assistance. It is likely that hardliners within the Iranian regime prefer strikes to very damaging sanctions, as military strikes would mobilize Iranian opposition to the US and Israel and strengthen their position within the regime. If strikes are perceived as less likely in an Obama second term, the potential domestic political payoff from refusing a negotiated settlement are lower. Since the Iranians know the US will not attempt to overthrow the regime a war is survivable, and the prospect of strikes less of a stick than US hawks suggest.

While these signs aren’t favorable per se, there’s no reason the Obama administration shouldn’t devote a major part of their foreign policy agenda during their second term towards Iran. Sanctions impose an enormous, ongoing human cost, and should be ended as soon as possible. The nuclear issue is in desperate need of a resolution  and the the US-Iranian conflict is a resource-sink that should be resolved, if possible. Obama’s second term is as good an opportunity as any.

Weighing a Dedicated Ballistic Missile Defense Class

By Taylor Marvin

I’ve previously discussed what I see as the deficiencies of Mitt Romney’s naval policy: Romney hasn’t made a compelling argument why the fleet should grow to 350 ships beyond vague notions of national strength, and hasn’t explained why he thinks even a marginally larger fleet will be an effective power projection force able to penetrate dangerous anti-access no-go zones. However, in a recent interview with Defense News Romney advisor John Lehman and his conflicts of interest made an interesting suggestion: building two new classes of ships, a frigate and a dedicated missile defense ship. The new frigate proposal is arguably a good one, as the impending retirement of the antiquated Oliver Hazard Perry class and small size and restricted range of the upcoming Littoral Combat Ship make it unsuitable for the routine sea policing and showing the flag missions frigates excel at.

San Antonio class, via Wikimedia.

More controversial is the proposal for a dedicated ballistic missile defense (BMD) ship. To reduce development costs, Lehman explains, the ship would be built on either the existing DDG-1000 (guided missile destroyer) or LPD 17 (San Antonio class amphibious transport dock) hull. Calling the proposal a missile defense “ship” rather than destroyer is important, Lehman explained, “because to have the kind of power aperture needed for the new radar, there is always a conflict between a deployable battle group ship and a missile defense ship. The latter is in elevated [readiness condition], tied to a specific area. It can’t deploy with the battle group.”

This is an interesting proposal. Offshore ballistic missile defense is a growing mission for the Navy, and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) like China’s formidable DF-21D system are a major threat to surface ships. A dedicated anti-ballistic missile (ABM) ship capable of targeting and destroying ballistic missiles would certainly increase the survivability of carrier strike groups, as well as serve in the region BMD role.

However, there are also numerous problems with this proposal, and it merits careful consideration. The greatest asset of the current fleet composition is its versatility. Destroyers contribute to carrier strike groups as well as perform solo sea policing, and are capable of anti-submarine, anti-air, and surface warfare roles. For all the talk about the demise of carriers, their power projection capability will remain reliable and unrivaled in anything but a major war, which is unlikely to occur in the future. As the United States is unable to predict what type of future conflicts it will involve itself in, versatility is paramount to cost effectiveness, especially as the cost of individual platforms grows.

This is a problem for a dedicated ABM ship. Whiled we can’t say much about what the capabilities of such a ship would be until an actual proposal is ironed out, it would certainly be tied to a single mission to a greater extent than other classes. But of course, this lack of versatility is the cost of excelling at a single mission. A dedicated ABM ship would have significant advantages over the Navy’s current ABM strategy, which relies on Aegis-equipped Ticonderoga class cruisers (four of which have been kept in service for their ABM capability after previously being slated for retirement) and Arleigh Burke class destroyers, as well as allies’ like Japan’s Aegis ABM-equipped destroyers. Starting in 2016 the Navy is scheduled to procure Flight III Burke class destroyers, which will mount the larger and more powerful Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) system to better perform the BMD mission. However, fitting these ships with the bulky mechanical equipment required for such a large sensor system means compromising their designs, and Flight III’s cost per unit has already risen to between $3 and $4 billion.

These ABM platforms suffer from various deficiencies due to their multirole design. But despite the limitations of BMD based on the Aegis system, these ships’ versatility is an enormous advantage. As Ronald O’Rourke notes:

“In conventional warfighting operations, Aegis ships could be called upon to perform a variety of non-BMD functions, including anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, strike warfare and naval surface fire support, and antisubmarine warfare. Locations that are good for performing BMD operations might not be good for performing non-BMD operations, and vice versa.”

Though important, the actual need for BMD is rare. Building a entire ship class dedicated to a rarely needed mission is problematic.

So the question is: do the advantages of a dedicated ABM class outweigh the limitations imposed on more versatile, multirole Aegis BMD ships? Possibly. A dedicated ABM ship would be able to better mount the AMDR system and would likely involve less design compromises. Additionally, utilizing the existing LPD 17 hull as Lehman suggests would likely free up a large amount of space for the Vertical Launch System (VLS) used to house missiles on modern warships, allowing for a dedicated ABM ship to carry more missiles. Most Burke class destroyers are fitted with 96 individual VLS cells; cruisers hold 122. As VLS cannot be reloaded at sea, during a major conflict ships could be forced to return to port to rearm, decreasing the amount of ships the US could keep in theater. Delegating the ballistic missile defense role to from surface combatants to a dedicated ABM ship would free up these ships’ VLS for other weapons. Depending on the flexibility of the design a dedicated ABM ship could also be loaded with non-ABM weaponry while not performing the BMD role.

Even if a Romney election victory leads to a larger, 350 ship fleet, there still is a zero-sum aspect to budgetary decisions — money that goes to a dedicated ABM class doesn’t go elsewhere. These costs are substantial; a dedicated ABM class would be expensive. For all Lehman’s talk of affordability, adapting an existing hull design for a new mission is not trivial, and the rising cost of the Flight III Burke class — in itself a simpler conversion than adapting a DDG 1000 or LDP 17 hull to the ABM role — are not a good omen. Lehman’s remark that the optimum power plant for a LDP 17-derived ABM ship “is not the one that’s in it” is also worrying, from an affordability standpoint. This affordability problem is confounded by a dedicated ABM class’ lack of flexibility, as there’s only so much the Navy can spend on a single mission. While the old arsenal ship idea calls for a large ship able to carry a large number of individual VLS cells is superficially similar to a dedicated ABM ship, the extensive sensors required for an ABM ship would negate the benefits of this “moderate cost, high benefit” proposal.

Worse, it’s not clear what benefit this class would provide. While ASBM are the by far the most dangerous threat facing surface ships, but they are not alone. US and allied forces in anti-access/area-denial environments face many threats beyond ballistic missiles, including cruise missiles, enemy aircraft, and for naval forces, submarines and mines; building a dedicated ABM ship is investing in an expensive class that cannot contribute to combating these threats. More troubling, as opponents of ballistic missile defense have noted for decades, ballistic missile defense is hard. BMD systems has performed poorly in combat — though admittedly modern systems have not had the dubious opportunity to prove their worth in wartime — and when successful in tests do so under carefully controlled conditions. If China really did want to sink a US supercarrier, they throw every anti-access weapons system they have against it: an attack by multiple ASBM warheads using decoys and jamming to degrade US countermeasures, combined with simultaneous cruise missile launches to overwhelm and distract defenders. This gets at the core problem with BMD: it will always be easier for an attacker to simply launch more missiles than the system can deal with. ASBM systems are difficult to build — it is not clear when China’s DF-21D will be an operational system — but are not particularly expensive by unit cost, and will certainly become both more common and proliferated in the future. It’s not clear if investing limited resources in a dedicated ship class is a good idea if an ABM ship would not actually be able to perform it’s mission, especially since fleet ballistic missile defense is not the “limited, unsophisticated strike” modern BMD advocates typically argue their systems are capable of defeating.

Of course if successful a dedicated ABM class would have real benefits. Notably, the ability to reliably to defeat intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase would allow the Navy to defend itself in a Western Pacific war without targeting missile launch sites in China. This is a core problem with the AirSea Battle concept: hitting missile launchers in China carries a dramatic potential to escalate a previously maritime conflict. Just as the British refrained from striking the Argentine mainland during the Falklands conflict, so should the US avoid potentially escalatory mainland strikes in a future war. Effective and reliable navla ABM ability could allow this. But this is a huge if, and it is very unclear if this uncertainty justifies an expensive new ship class.

Dreams of a Comforting Future

By Taylor Marvin

At Ordinary Gentlemen, Nob Akimoto admirably strives to create a theoretical case for Mitt Romney’s proposed foreign policy, one that rests on the belief that the US must continue to exert hegemony over as much of the world as possible:

“The United States and its interests are most secure when it has a preponderance of military power. In short: a unipolar world is the safest world. US foreign policy in turn should be about the maintenance of unipolarity as much as possible.”

This argument is nearly identical to one offered in the foreign policy section of the Romney campaign website:

“When America is strong, the world is safer. It is only American power—conceived in the broadest terms—that can provide the foundation for an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies.”

The United States was able to enjoy a unipolar world for the last two decades primarily because it was the only existing great power left standing, rather than particularly adept statesmanship. The first wave of nations to industrialize and consequently create militaries capable of creating true regional hegemonies and projecting limited power on a global scale destroyed these capabilities in the two European world wars of the early 20th century. Of the second wave of industrializing powers, only the US and USSR’s industrial bases and consequently military might survived the Second World War. By 1990 the US was left the sole global power as the USSR’s inability to grow its non-defense domestic economy and manage political dissent ended its great power status. What’s important to realize is that while the US attained global hegemonic power partially through “exceptional” traits — an ocean’s worth of distance separating it from any rival, for instance — the unipolar world of the era between 1990 and maybe 2020 was mostly due to external factors the US had little influence over: European powers’ propensity for destructive wars and imperial overreach, Japan’s self-defeating aggressiveness, and the Soviets’ inability to manage their domestic economy.

Romney and his fellow neo-conservative travelers appear to have misinterpreted the United States’ asent to mastery of a unipolar world to mean that the only thing standing between America and perpetual unipolarity is will: only a “strong” America — and the Romney campaign reads strength only as hegemony — can preserve the postwar international system.

It may be true that a multipolar world will not be as amenable to the open and globalized system of the post-war era. But it is not clear that America has any real power to preserve the current unipolar world order at all. Today a third wave of industrialized countries with rapidly increasing military capabilities are emerging and, in a world where industrial and information technology is rapidly disseminated, the basis for great power status is increasingly population, not technological and social infrastructure. China and India both have much larger populations than the United States; while the United States will retain global military superiority over these countries for decades to come, it is silly to think that a country with both a population and economy many times larger than America’s will not be able to exert control over its own region. Unless these rising powers are hampered by insurmountable internal weaknesses like the USSR there is no reason to think it is possible — or desirable, if you admit that economic growth and associated rising standards of living abroad are good for humanity in general — for the United States to preserve a unipolar system.

Basing foreign policy around the idea that maintaining the unipolar world is essential is magical thinking, and is a recipe for a more dangerous future. The United States should not chart impossible courses. Barring an unforeseen upset, China will become the dominant power in East Asia in the foreseeable future. Attempting to prevent or delay this shift is unlikely to succeed at acceptable cost, and will only convince future generations of Chinese leaders that the current international system is hostile and worth combating.

With many missteps the United States managed the transition from a bipolar world to today’s unipolar one. If it cannot admit that a multipolar world is coming, it will be unable to peacefully manage this future transition.

Why Aren’t We Talking About China?

By Taylor Marvin

Image by James Currie, via Wikimedia.

Unless I’m missing something, Monday’s address by Mitt Romney was branded as a foreign policy speech. Of course, given the Virginia Military Institute venue this was really a national security address, though it isn’t surprising that a man who titles his autobiography in reference to a mythical “apology tour” appears to entirely conflate ‘foreign policy’ with an aggressive national security agenda. I don’t have much to say about the contents of the speech that smarter people haven’t already, but one thing jumped out at me: the word “China” appears exactly once, in a throwaway line:

“There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East—and it is not unique to that region. It is broadly felt by America’s friends and allies in other parts of the world as well— in Europe, where Putin’s Russia casts a long shadow over young democracies, and where our oldest allies have been told we are ‘pivoting’ away from them … in Asia and across the Pacific, where China’s recent assertiveness is sending chills through the region … “

With only a few exceptions, Romney’s entire speech is focused on the Middle East. Of course, this is partially due to the Romney campaign’s recent focus on the death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi as evidence of the Obama administration’s negligent handling of the Arab Spring and failed overall Middle East policy. But a focus on the Middle East this extensive is myopic.

Managing China’s rise is the most challenging security dilemma likely to face the United States this century, and the US’ current mixed strategy of engagement and limited containment is unlikely to remain a viable option in the future. Assuming that Beijing’s commitment to recover Taiwan is serious — there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the 2005 Taiwan Anti-Secession Law is a hands-tying device designed to force the next generation leadership, who simultaneously have no memory of losing Taiwan and whose superpower status lessens the prestige concerns over the continued de facto independence of the lost province, to prevent a declaration independence — the US’ commitment to the region is destabilizing. China’s growing relative military strength relative to the US, in particular its development of effective anti-access/area-denial strategies, increases the chance Beijing will one day call America’s bluff. If it does, the insufficient force to back up its security commitments in the region will encourage US leaders to escalate a previously limited conflict. The next president of the United States should have a concrete plan to address this strategic problem, either by massively increasing the US military’s ability to fight in an A2/AD environment or ceding portions of the Western Pacific as within a Chinese sphere of influence; by mocking the Obama administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’ Romney appears to be dismissing the entire question of strategic choices.

Romney’s single mention of China is especially puzzling given that one of the speech’s few concrete policy positions is the commitment to “restore our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines” as part of Romney’s goal of growing the US Navy to 350 ships; the Obama administration favors building nine ships per year, for a current goal of a 300 ship fleet. If this increase in shipbuilding is motivated by a practical strategic purpose rather than ill-defined notions of national greatness — unfortunately, Romney’s frequent remark that “the size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916” suggests that it is not — he should justify why a larger navy is important. The most credible argument for growing the US Navy is, of course, China. A larger fleet is of no use in the Middle East, and America’s ability to quickly challenge an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz is not related to the total size of the fleet (though building more minesweepers would be wise). Instead, a 350 ship strong fleet is arguable an important part of maintaining a credible military presence in the vast Western Pacific theater.

But this isn’t enough. If Mitt Romney wants to build a more numerous fleet as part of his plan to counter China’s military growth he needs to explain how this fits into his larger strategy, and why attempting to contain China — the clear implication — is worth the cost, or even possible. So far, he hasn’t.

Perhaps Romney feels that he doesn’t have to justify growing the US Navy to voters on any rational other than American greatness, or it’s simply a way of contrasting himself with Obama’s lack of “resolve”. But it is still troubling that Romney sees no need to justify a major change in US defense policy in what is supposed to be a major speech.