Mitt Romney’s hawkish foreign policy plan: A substitute for experience?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has laid out a hawkish foreign policy and national security plan for what he calls an “American Century.”

Speaking at The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, S.C., Mr. Romney sought both to distinguish himself from President Obama and to place himself ahead of his GOP rivals. His speech marked a more detailed foreign policy statement than any other candidate in the Republican primary race has made so far.

The businessman and former governor of Massachusetts – with little foreign policy or military experience – presented a muscular view of the United States and its dominant place in the world.

“In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world,” he said. “In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.”

Among other things, Romney proposes to:

Add 100,000 new troops to US forces.

Increase military spending.

Increase the rate of the Navy’s shipbuilding program from nine to 15 vessels per year.

Station a large aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf to put pressure on Iran.

Strengthen alliances with the United Kingdom, Israel, and Mexico.

Romney’s speech, delivered on the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, comes as the United States faces major national security and diplomatic challenges around the world, including the continuing threat of terrorist attack despite the weakening of al Qaeda, the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, and of course two wars that have kept US forces in a combat role for the longest period in the nation’s history.

Perhaps acknowledging his lack of expertise, Romney Thursday announced what amounts to a shadow National Security Council – a group of 22 advisers, many of them with years of experience in Republican administrations. Among them are former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Republican challengers will have to demonstrate the ability to lead the country in a difficult international climate.

For Romney at this point in the GOP presidential campaign, that means striking a balance between the mainstream, hawkish wing of the Republican party and the more isolationist tea party wing. In his speech Friday, Romney made it clear where he stands.

“We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell,” he said.

Critics were quick to respond.

The pro-Democrat Priorities USA Action political-action committee posted a clip from a 2008 presidential campaign debate in which John McCain asks Romney “whether you have the experience and the judgment to lead this country in the war against radical Islamic extremism.”

Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war combat veteran and former assistant secretary of veterans’ affairs who’s running for a congressional seat in Illinois, wrote in Politico this week, “Romney’s foreign policy ideas – like his domestic agenda – have been opportunistic and all over the map.”

Ms. Duckworth points to Romney’s previous statements on a range of issues – from Pakistan and Libya to Mexico and nuclear arms control – and concludes that “his craven attitude to foreign policy is based more on political expediency than real world facts.”

Also writing in Politico Friday, Romney GOP rival Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah previewed a major foreign affairs speech he’s scheduled to give in New Hampshire next Monday.

“My foreign policy vision and priorities, Huntsman writes, “will differ from the conventional thinking you will hear from some of my fellow Republican candidates – including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.”

“Simply advocating for more ships, more troops and more weapons isn’t a viable foreign policy,” says Huntsman, a former ambassador to China. “We need more agility, more intelligence and more economic engagement with the world.”

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