Mitt Romney

In a speech today at the Virginia Military Institute, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney will commit to arming Syrian rebels, and will attribute the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi to the “same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001,” which under the still-active Authorization to Use Military Force commits the United States to military action in that country.

The foreign policy address seeks to clarify Romney’s position on a host of international issues which have not factored heavily into the Presidential race. Romney’s group of foreign policy advisers comes from the same pool of neoconservatives that dominated George W. Bush’s administration. And the interventionist attitude is prevalent in the speech.

In excerpts released by the Romney campaign, the Republican nominee will say that “The attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001.” It’s true that the initial Obama Administration depiction of the Benghazi attack as a residual effect from a protest against an anti-Islam video was incorrect, but it’s just as incorrect to attribute the attack to the “same forces” as behind the 9-11 attack, even if Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is responsible. They didn’t exist on 9-11, and they are more of rebranded Islamic militant group inspired by rather than tied to the prominent terrorist organization.

Romney calls for a “time to change course in the Middle East” in a variety of precarious situations.

I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf the region—and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination.  For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions—not just words—that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated [...]

In Libya, I will support the Libyan people’s efforts to forge a lasting government that represents all of them, and I will vigorously pursue the terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans [...]

In Syria, I will 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 to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them.  We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran—rather than sitting on the sidelines.  It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.

While the Iran policy looks like “do what Obama is doing, but sound tougher,” in Libya he commits to a vigorous pursuit of terrorists. The President has also committed to bringing the attackers of the consulate to justice. But by designating those attackers as the “same forces” that attacked on 9-11, there’s an involuntary commitment to military action under the AUMF.

That’s a difference in affect but maybe not a difference in action. But on Syria, we have a real advance of policy. Romney will say that he plans to identify friendly rebels and arm them. This is further down the road of intervention than the current reality, where arms do get to the rebels but not directly through US actions.

Later in the speech Romney will endorse the two state solution for Israel and Palestine that he completely disavowed in a secretly-taped fundraiser in May. And he sees free trade as a route to foreign policy success, criticizing the President for not signing “one new free trade agreement in the past four years” (Obama has signed three agreements previously negotiated by the Bush Administration with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, and is in the midst of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a NAFTA for Asia that would be the biggest in decades).

The details here remain vague. And most of the speech sounds like the Obama approach with a little more energy to it. But what we know about Romney’s foreign policy is that he wants to spend a lot more money on defense, $2 trillion above what the Pentagon has anticipated over the next ten years. And if you have those tools lying around, sooner or later they get used.