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Meet the new Romney foreign policy speech... same as the old Romney foreign policy speech?

I've had my fair share of disagreements with Danielle Pletka in the past, but I liked her well-crafted New York Times op-ed on what Romney needs to say today on foreign policy a great deal.  In particular: 

For an American public fixated on the economy, another Romney valedictory on the advantages of not being Barack Obama will be a waste of time. Americans feel more comfortable when they have a sense of the candidate’s vision, because it gives them a clearer road map for the future....

Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. Worse yet, they betray the same robotic antipathy that animated Bush-haters. “I will not apologize for America” is no more a clarion call than “let’s nation-build at home.”

Mr. Romney must put flesh on the bones of his calls for a renewed American greatness. With a vision for American power, strategically and judiciously applied, we can continue to do great things with fewer resources. The nation’s greatest strength is not its military power or fantastic productivity. It’s the American commitment to our founding principles of political and economic freedom. If Mr. Romney can outline to voters how he will use American power to advance those principles, he will go a long way in persuading them he deserves the job of commander in chief.

This gets to the nub of Mitt Romney's foreign policy problem.  If one pushes past the overheated rhetoric, then you discover that Romney wants a lot of the same ends as Barack Obama -- a stable, peaceful and free Middle East, for example.  But that's not shocking -- any major party president will want the same ends.  The differenes are in the means through which a president will achieve those ends.  And -- in op-ed after op-ed, in speech after speech -- Romney either elides the means altogether, mentions means that the Obama administration is already using, or just says the word "resolve" a lot.  That's insufficient. 

Unfortunately, the pre-speech indicators suggest that Team Romney is ignoring Pletka's advice.  Ineeed, if CNN's excerpts of Romney's big foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute today are any indication, there's almost no new policy content in this speech. 

I'll check back in after the speech, but David Sanger's NYT front-pager today about how the Romney team is managing the foreign policy side of things is pretty dispiriting: 

[W]hile the theme Mr. Romney plans to hit the hardest in his speech at V.M.I. — that the Obama era has been one marked by “weakness” and the abandonment of allies — has political appeal, the specific descriptions of what Mr. Romney would do, on issues like drawing red lines for Iran’s nuclear program and threatening to cut off military aid to difficult allies like Pakistan or Egypt if they veer away from American interests, sound at times quite close to Mr. Obama’s approach....

And the speech appears to glide past positions Mr. Romney himself took more than a year ago, when he voiced opposition to expanding the intervention in Libya to hunt down Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi with what he termed insufficient resources. He called it “mission creep and mission muddle,” though within months Mr. Qaddafi was gone. And last spring, Mr. Romney was caught on tape telling donors he believed there was “just no way” a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could work.

Mr. Romney’s Monday speech calls vaguely for support of Libya’s “efforts to forge a lasting government” and to pursue the “terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans.” And he said he would “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security” with Israel. But he does not say what resources he would devote to those tasks.

The shifts, a half dozen of Mr. Romney’s advisers said in interviews, partly reflect the fact that the candidate himself has not deeply engaged in these issues for most of the campaign, certainly not with the enthusiasm, and instincts, he has on domestic economic issues. But they also represent continuing divisions.

Two of Mr. Romney’s advisers said he did not seem to have the strong instincts that he has on economic issues; he resonates best, one said, to the concept of “projecting strength” and “restoring global economic growth.” But he has appeared unconcerned about the widely differing views within his own campaign about whether spreading American-style freedoms in the Middle East or simply managing, and limiting, the rise of Islamist governments should be a major goal.

Simply put, if Mitt Romney can't demonstrate leadership and resolve in commanding the foreign policy camps that are participating in his campaign, I'm somewhat dubious that he can do the same with either Russia or China. 

Am I missing anything? 

Daniel W. Drezner

When television goes MAD

This television season has been a mixed blessing for those of us who like to study how humans behave under anarchy.  On the one hand, in addition to Season Three of The Walking Dead about to start, two new shows have explored that theme at some length.  The first to premier was Revolution.  On the other hand, Revolution really isn't that good

What about the other new show?  Here's the extended trailer for Last Resort

 

So, you get the premise:  the nuclear sub USS Colorado gets an order to fire their nuclear weapons at Pakistan.  While the codes check out, the order seems just a bit wonky cause it goes through a secondary alert network.  After the captain and executive officer question the order to their superiors, all hell breaks loose. 

My take?  SPOILERS AHEAD. 

Cards on the table:  I definitely liked this show more than Revolution, although that's an admittedly low bar.  This has a lot to do with the acting.  Andre Braugher knows how to project authority, Robert Patrick is perfect as the grizzled and misogynistic chief of the boat, and I'm surprised to report that Scott Speedman is really compelling as the XO.  Having watched the pilot and second episode, the tensions within the crew of the Colorado play out nicely.  The mystery behind the launch also seems quite interesting.  And the pilot does explain why, after a failed first attempt, the U.S. navy doesn't try to take out the Colorado again -- welcome to network television, MAD!!

So there's some potential here -- but there are also some serious, serious problems with the show as it's played out so far.  In ascending order of importance: 

1)  in the pilot, Captain Chaplin relates to his XO an anecdote about Reagan needing to seem just a bit crazy to convince the Russians he could launch a nuke, while Brezhnev had already done that by invading Afghanistan.  This ia a good setup for Chaplin's own need to seem just a bit crazy.  The problem is that, Steve Saideman points out, it was Nixon and not Reagan who believed this logic. 

2)  I've met some submariners, and, well, let's just say that they're a different breed from the rest of the U.S. Navy.  Any individual willing to be in a small hermetically sealed tube for up to six months has to have a particular mindset, and Last Resort doesn't hint at that.  At a minimum, there would have been a few very religiously devout sailors on the Colorado, but that's not talked about at all.  This is a shame, because the presence of Navy SEALS on the boat suggests the opportunities for some culture clashes that haven't panned out. 

3)  The Washington, DC scenes are not terribly convincing, particularly the super-hot defense contractor Kylie Sinclair, played by Autumn Reeser.  Now let's be very clear here:  I have no prejudice whatsoever against super-hot defense contractors.  I do, however, have a problem with the notion that supposedly whip-smart Kylie is going to spill all the beans about her super-secret system that's on board the Colorado to the guy she's about to sleep with. 

4)  Oh, and about that system that Kylie set up -- essentially, it's a device that renders the Colorado invisible to detection.  Not to put to fine a point on it, but this would not be a system that would make deterrence that stable.  In fact, if memory serves someone made a movie based on this very premise. 

5)  Really, though, 1-4 are small matters compared to the elephant in the room with respect to Last Resort.  The plot gets moving when the USS Colorado is ordered to fire its missiles at Pakistan.  Later in the pilot, we discover that the USS Illinois did obey orders and fire two missiles into Pakistan, "killing millions" as one character later mentions. 

After those missiles are fired, 98% of what we see is how Washington and the crew of the Colorado cope with the Colorado's refusal to obey orders.  Which is pretty important... but maybe, just maybe, not as important as the U.S. NUCLEAR WEAPONS THAT WERE USED AGAINST PAKISTAN!!!!

Seriously, there are one or two mentions of how things in the world are "complicated" because of this, and that's it.  Nothing on Pakistani retaliation, India's reaction, China's reaction, and so forth.  In the Washington scenes, all anyone seems to care about is the Colorado, which is pretty funny, since I'd think the first use of nuclear weapons since 1945 might raise a few hackles. 

Now you might think that since this is a show about the crew of a renegade sub, that's fine -- except it isn't.  The plot in episode two hinges on Russian Spetsnaz forces trying to seize the boat.  At one point the U.S. Secretary of Defense gets pretty indignant at a Russian official for trying to do this.  In the show, the Russian official just looked sheepish.  If this had played out in the real world, the Russian would have said the following: 

"I'm sorry, what was that?  You, the United States military, initiated the use of nuclear weapons in South Asia, killing millions of people, right?  And now you have a rogue sub firing missiles close to Washington.  You're asking what the hell Russia is doing?  With all due respect, f**k off, Mr. Secretary."

I know I'm not going to watch Revolution again.  I'm on the fence with Last Resort... but this whole nuking Pakistan thing going unmentioned might drive me away.