Governor Romney today gave what he billed as a major address on his Middle East strategy. I wrote last week about the five questions that he should have answered today. Essential details that have real consequences for how a Romney Administration would actually conduct itself in the region. Unfortunately, those questions remain unanswered. What he did do, strangely enough, was make the case for the strategy that the Obama Administration has been pursuing for the last two years. On almost every single issue that Romney raised, the policy he claims to favor is the one currently being implemented. Instead of a critique, this address should be understood as an endorsement of Obama’s current strategy, and as a call to embolden it.
Romney says that he will “impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have.” But President Obama has already organized the most restrictive multilateral sanctions regime in history; a policy that is delegitimizing the current government and has led to popular revolts in Tehran.
Romney says that he would “work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need.” The Obama Administration has been working with Gulf allies to get weapons and support channeled to the rebels for months now, but has also acknowledged how risky it is to supply incredibly powerful weapons to groups that have unknown agendas and little ability to keep them out of the hands of anti-American forces. It’s unclear how Romney’s policy would be any different.
Romney says that he will “champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of our strategy, both in the Middle East and across the world.” The President, though, is in the midst of negotiating a major trans-pacific trade agreement, and has finalized regional trade and investment framework agreements with the Gulf Cooperation Council and the countries in the MENA region. Ambassador Sapiro articulated this trade-led policy over a year ago, so it is difficult to imagine how Mr. Romney has missed it.
Romney says that he will provide aid, but make it conditional on democratic progress, leverage international partners, and organize it under one administrator. That’s an excellent summary of the Obama policy. Ambassador Bill Taylor – the Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions – was probably surprised to hear that Mr. Romney appeared not to know that he existed, though he was appointed to coordinate all aid to MENA transition countries over a year ago.
Additionally, the Deauville Partnership was created by the US and its G8 allies specifically to provide aid that incentivized moving down the path of good governance, and leveraging multilateral partnerships with the IMF, foreign allies, and other development banks.
If Mr. Romney really wants to deploy the lessons of George Marshall, whom he name-checked five times during his address, he should call on House Republicans to stop blocking the economic engagement agenda that Obama has been pushing for over the last year and a half. The MENA Incentive Fund, $450 million in debt forgiveness, and essential aid to the transition countries remains in jeopardy. If Romney believes in Marshall’s vision of reconstruction and democracy promotion, then he has some phone calls to make to Capitol Hill.