These guidelines will preserve strong relations with traditional allies like Europe, Japan, and Israel. They also need to be applied when dealing with emerging powers like India, Turkey, and Brazil that are seeking partnerships with Washington based on mutuality and respect, not hierarchy and deference. And the Middle East is in the midst of political transformation, defying the neoconservative penchant for putting nations into neat democratic/nondemocratic, secular/Islamist, for us/against us camps. American diplomacy must adjust nimbly to a world in flux.
It is worrying that Romney pledges to reinstate a foreign policy of reflexive toughness just four years after Bush's assertive unilateralism left the United States mired in Iraq and estranged from much of the world. In Tampa this week, Senator John McCain put his bellicosity on full display and Secretary Condoleezza Rice glossed over her role in the errant war in Iraq. The Republicans would do better to heed the wisdom of their own Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, who has warned that a president who wants to take the nation into another major war that is not absolutely necessary should "have his head examined."
To be sure, Americans don't want a president who is too gun shy. Against bin Laden, in drone attacks on terrorists, in Libya, and in developing a NATO-backed missile defense system, President Obama has shown that he is not. Polls show that only 38 percent of Americans believe Romney would be a good commander-in-chief, indicative of anxiety that he and his team might be too trigger happy.
As to Romney's pledge to return the United States to the vocation of democracy promotion, Obama has hardly dropped the ball on that front -- as made clear by the intervention in Libya, diplomacy with Egypt, and other efforts to shepherd unrest in the Middle East in the right direction. And in contrast to neoconservative preferences for spreading democracy through preaching, hammering, or occupying, Obama has shown the payoffs of persistent diplomacy that has finally brought political change to Burma, and of the careful, quiet negotiations that freed the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.
Finally, Romney seems oblivious to the intimate connection between America's strength at home and its mission abroad. His pledge to increase defense spending belies his commitment to restore the nation's fiscal solvency. Indiscriminant defense cuts must be avoided, but it is not credible to exempt the military budget from the hard fiscal choices before the nation.
And oddly, especially for someone who touts himself as a savvy businessman, Romney refuses to realistically address how to right the U.S. economy. The outsourcing of jobs, the stagnating income of America's middle class, growing inequality -- correcting these ills requires more than cutting taxes and federal spending while maximizing corporate profits. The private sector will of course be the engine of economic recovery. But orchestrating that recovery will require a balanced mix of revenue increases and spending cuts, coupled with strategic investment in infrastructure, education, and job creation. In a globalized world economy, enhancing competitiveness, reclaiming a prosperity broadly shared among all Americans, and restoring the economic foundations of U.S. power will require more than business as usual.
Pulling off an economic rebound that reduces inequality and redresses the economic plight of the middle class is essential to restoring not just economic strength, but also the steady conduct of U.S. diplomacy. The United States is today deeply polarized, bereft of the bipartisan consensus that long anchored its statecraft. That consensus, which emerged after World War II, rested in part on the rising economy's dampening effect on partisan cleavages. Today, economic pain and growing inequality are rekindling ideological confrontation. Romney's abandonment of centrism in favor of the far right, coupled with his disregard for the needs of average Americans, promises only to exacerbate the political divisions that compromise American power and purpose.
Romney is poised to take the United States down a dangerous path on foreign policy. But at least he is doing Americans a service by clarifying their choices in November.