[I’m on vacation this week, but I’m reading and doing some metacommentary on Mitt Romney’s book. Enjoy, or skip over it: it’s a free country.]
We’re at Mitt Romney explains the West, China, Russia and Jihad like you’re 12 and super interested in what a corporation is. It’s a subsection called “Four strategies to Achieve World Power.” So corporations pursue different strategies. Apple had to “appeal to a different segment of customers and win those buyers” than Microsoft. And guess what, it’s not just corporations that compete with each other! It’s also countries.
Countries, like businesses, need strategies to survive and prosper. A nation’s strategy should be designed to propel it beyond its competitors and to increase the security and prosperity of its citizens. While there are as many strategies as there are countries on the global map, there are four specific approaches to geopolitics that have been embraced by various major players on the world stage. We must recognize and understand these if we are to be fully aware of the challenges ahead.
So three things. First, “global map,” that’s how you want to phrase it? Second, not everything is a business metaphor. We understand that countries compete without needing to start out in the business world. Finally, countries and corporations do very different things, so the metaphor only works so well. We expect much more cooperation between countries than between corporations, for example.
I don’t know why he has written like this, but he lays out these strategies one by one instead of saying what they are and then expanding on it like a person who wasn’t used to hiding the ball all of their life might write it. I’m just going to say his 4 strategies outlined are the West with our free markets and free people, the Chinese model of freeish markets and not free people, the Russian model of “authoritarian rule … based on energy,” and the final one is jihad, like Iran has embraced.
The first is the West. He devotes all of two paragraphs to how free markets and free people work. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here that it’s because he assumes the reader knows about how those work, and not because he doesn’t know anything. But I’m going to quote the second paragraph in full here:
While the nations that pursue this “American” strategy are collectively referred to as the West, not all of them do so in a uniform manner.* Sweden and several other European nations, for example, place a far heavier governmental hand on free enterprise than does The United States. Citizens are highly taxed to provide not only a very substantial safety net but also a relatively comfortable lifestyle. Business and employment are highly regulated. Despite the differences among Western nations, economic freedom and political freedom are at the core.
So, when in the intro Obama lowered taxes (but Romney insists he raised them) and enacted a few regulations (but fewer than under the first few years of President Bush) it was because he hates free enterprise. But Sweden makes the cut as part of our Western ideals.
Anyway, we’re on to China. Their strategy is based on “free enterprise” but also “authoritarian rule.” According to Romney, “The conflict is so apparent that many Western observers have predicted that as China’s economy and trade develop, the country will trend toward democracy and freedom” as if there have never been authoritarian rulers of a country with markets before.
If you like several rambling pages, then this is the section for you. It’s not just the government, when Romney goes to China, the people “seemed much more interested in pursuing the lessons of American-style free enterprise than they were in promoting American-style freedom.” And the Olympics were a success. China saw the lesson from the fall of the Soviet Union and when “its fellow travelers like North Korea and Cuba collapsed.” Those certainly are bad regimes that do bad things to their people, but those are like the only examples of communist countries that try to remain communist and haven’t collapsed. There are so many examples, and North Korea and Cuba are examples of collapse?
And even having learned the lessons, the Chinese markets aren’t like Western markets: Businesses are state owned and operated, the rule of law hasn’t been established. The “tainted products from dog food to infant formula” get out. And intellectual property isn’t enforced. “China brazenly sells sensitive technologies to Iran and buys oil from genocidal Sudan, and it vigorously defends these nations against international sanction.” It seems like the modern GOP wouldn’t mind more crap in your dog food and infant formula if it meant the government didn’t tell people to get it out.
And there is another way in which Chinese enterprise is distinguished from other economic systems around the world: it is winning. China is fast becoming the world’s factory, successfully capturing the lion’s share of world manufacturing for a growing list of products. The country is no longer content to make only toys and trinkets.
Not discussed are things like currency manipulation and import controls. Those sorts of things are what America used to build our manufacturing base, and it’s what they’re using to build theirs now. I’m not saying we should retaliate in kind to that sort of thing, but it seems to me at least as important to their success as the fact that they sell technology to rogue states.
Anyway, on to Russia, whose strategy is to have energy resources:
Russia is pursuing a third global strategy. Like China, it favors authoritarian rule, but Russia’s economic strategy is primarily based on energy. By controlling people and energy, Russia aims to reassert itself as a global superpower.
They have oil and gas. It’s part of their economy and they manipulate the pipelines, etc. for political gain. But it’s not the entirety of their economy. And when Romney says their strategy is energy, and then he says things like “Russia also relies on the strength of its science and technology sectors” it makes me think it’s not a reliance on energy in the same way that Saudi Arabia is true of. So they have a more mixed strategy, and since they have a lot of energy resources, they were able to use them.
Romney also thinks that they’re driven by anti-Americanism: “anything that diminishes America pleases him [Putin], both because it weakens a competing power and because it gratifies his personal animus for the United States.” Mittens barely understands that they might have a foreign policy in Iran and North Korea beyond simply the opposite of what America wants. Finally Romney complains that “President Barrack Obama’s decision to walk away from our missile defense program in Poland and the Czech Republic was a huge concession to Putin” without noting that the technology didn’t work. It’s not much of a missile defense if it doesn’t defend against missiles.
And the final of the 4 strategies is violent jihad. “Though this strategy is formally embraced by only one country–Iran–it animates many foreign leaders and some of the most infamous names on the planet, among them Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Omar.”
There are only a few paragraphs about it here (don’t worry, there’s more to come in a later chapter). They all want a global caliphate, even though some just want “independence for Chechnya.”
These are the four strategies for world leadership that are in competition today. Only one is founded on freedom. Only one. Think of what that means. Only if American and the West succeed–if our economic and military strength endure–can we be confident that our children and grandchildren will be free. A strong America is good for peace, and is essential for the spread of freedom. Our superpower status and our leadership in the world, however, are not inevitable.
Then there’s a section on how freedom is great. And I agree with it for the most part. The only thing that I’ll mention because it’s strange is this: “The New Hampshire license plate reads LIVE FREE OR DIE, reminiscent of patriot Patrick Henry’s famous entreaty. There are those who insist that New Hampshire’s motto isn’t politically correct. But most Americans envy the Granite Staters their motto and believe, as I do, that this is the American resolve.”
For serous, dude: Nobody thinks they shouldn’t have that motto. I don’t even know what it means that a motto isn’t politically correct. That motto is great. Who complained to you about their license plate? “There are those”? Fuck you, there aren’t people who said that. That said, nobody is envious of a license plate. If they were, they could move to have their state change their plates.
And now we’re at the section “A Change in Foreign Policy” where he complains about Obama’s foreign policy. So he talks about the foreign policy consensus that emerged at the beginning of the Cold War. He talks about Truman remaking American foreign policy. And because it’s been like 15 pages since he mentioned a British Prime Minister, he says, “Truman and his team believed, as Winston Churchill did, that the hope of the world depended on the strength and will of the United States.”
Truman helped usher in all sorts of organizations to promote peace and to prevent another devastating war: “the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the GATT (later WTO), and NATO, among others.” Now there are many liberals who oppose some of those things, especially the ones that harm people economically. But it wasn’t Obama whose UN Ambassador wanted to take 10 stories off the UN. So if you’re asking yourself what party is against the stuff that Truman set up, well, you have to say it’s probably the GOP. Yet Romney’s contention is that Obama is the break from the post war consensus.
This sentiment manifests itself in several different ways, including President Obama’s American Apology Tour. Never before in American history has its president gone to so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, both real and imagined.
You’ll be SHOCKED to learn that Mitt Romney doesn’t actually quote any of the ways that Obama apologized for America. Also, the capitalizing makes it seem like that was the official name of the trip instead of some nonsense he made up. He does mention the apologies in broad outlines. “He has apologized for what he deems to be American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for acting unilaterally, and for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in internal affairs of other nations, and for feeding anti-Muslim sentiments; for committing torture, for dragging our feet on global warming, and for selectively promoting democracy.”
I wish that he had actually apologized for some of those instead of just mentioning it, and saying we can do better. I wish someone high in the administration had said, “I’m sorry we waterboarded people. I’m sorry we invaded other countries.” I’m sorry is such a powerful thing. If we care about our values, we should apologize when we don’t live up to them.
Romney says we know it was bad because some bad actors said diplomatic things about being able to work with Obama. “Muammar Quaddafi, the dictator of Libya, declared that ‘we’d be content and happy if Obama can stay president for ever.” Again, I know that several years’ hindsight after Romney wrote the book is unfair. And if Romney was making an honest case, I wouldn’t point out that how’d that work out for Quaddafi? Man, if unlike his predecessors, Obama would use force when he found it necessary against bad actors like Quaddafi!
Then Romney complains that Obama isn’t taking Israel seriously enough. Obama doesn’t know what Israel has done to make peace. And Romney doesn’t know the basics of time:
To take just one example: In 2005, Israel evacuated its settlers and handed over the Gaza strip and part of the West Bank to the Palestinians. This unilateral concession on the part of Israel was met in return by thousands of rockets fired into the cities of Israel. The Palestinians, fully aware that President Obama is pressuring Israel to make even more unilateral concessions, are content to sit back and make no concessions of any kind.
I’m always wary of wading into the Israel-Palestine conflict. But, Israel left Gaza because they thought it was in their best interest. Obama didn’t really have anything to do with that. It was a conservative Israeli government decision supported by George W. Bush. And in the here and now, Obama is putting pressure on both sides in the conflict.
Anyway, more examples of how the administration is a break from the past are that he doesn’t support human rights around the world enough. I’d argue that’s true that we don’t support human rights enough, but less so than during the Bush administration or the Cold War. In fact he chose a Secretary of State who proclaimed that women’s rights are human rights around the world. And who since the book has been written has declared the same for gay rights. The administration, more militarily than I’d like, has taken an active role in helping the Arab Spring move toward democracy in many countries.
Romney doesn’t like how Obama hasn’t finished a trade deal with Columbia. This apparently proves that he didn’t mean it when he talked about multilateral relations.
And Obama has apparently been too weak on Iran and North Korea. “President Obama sends a signal that he is eager to negotiate at any time, any place, without conditions; the effect of this is to cede all of the power and leverage to our enemies. Time and again, President Obama’s open hand has been met with a clenched fist.” Maybe, but Iran’s actions have strengthened the resolve of our allies to impose further sanctions, and made multilateral sanctions stronger.
But of course, for Romney, Obama’s attempts at multilateralism are themselves signs that Obama secretly thinks America is in decline. “It has expressed itself in President Obama’s insistence that there is ‘no junior partner’ in our relations with Europe meaning that Luxembourg and Andorra carry the same weight and influence in world affairs as the United States and Great Britain (a claim that even Andorrans and citizens of Luxembourg would probably reject).” It’s tough to have a straw man when you actually quote people, isn’t it? Take 3 words and then declare what they mean, and hope that people focus on your paraphrase instead of what you quote. Has there been any indication in his actions that he thinks the Grand Duchy has the same influence as the United States? No, of course not.
Another awesome Romney argument is that one time Obama was asked if he believed in American exceptionalism. Obama said that he did, but noted that other countries probably believed in their own country’s exceptionalism. This, to Romney, proved that Obama didn’t believe in American exceptionalism. Because what?
We’re almost done, but there are a few more things Obama should do. He should treat our allies like allies, without ever explaining how we aren’t. But if we don’t then there will be a continent wide revolution in South America lead by Hugo Chavez, Iran will have nuclear weapons, and Japan and China will become allies (?*∞). I think we can judge some of this by what has happened. And what has happened so far in foreign policy under Obama is not those things.
Romney also thinks Obama should also strengthen the economy. While there’s still a long way to go, the economy has been improving since the book came out. We were in a huge hole, and we passed a large, but not large enough, stimulus. But Romney is worried that in the future taxes will have to be raised and that will undermine capitalism. “It is an often-remaked-upon** irony that at a time when Europe is moving away from socialism and its many failures, President Obama is moving us toward that direction.”
Don’t use the word irony, Mitt. Just don’t. Also, “toward that direction”? You move in a direction or toward a thing. Finally we aren’t moving toward or in the direction of socialism, so problem solved.
Romney thinks that because of, um all the socialism, we won’t spend enough on our military and missile defense. Romney once again doesn’t seem to realize that our missile defense system won’t defend us against missiles. He doesn’t engage this point. Also, he says that our military budget should be 4% of GDP. I don’t think that throwing out a number randomly is really appropriate, but wouldn’t that mean Romney thinks we should spend less on the military when the economy is down?
We also need to remember that our ideals are the best thing about America. But for like the thousandth time, what does it say about those ideals that Romney thinks we shouldn’t apologize when we don’t live up to them? Let’s hear what Romney says:
That doesn’t mean, of course, that America is a perfect country. We have made mistakes and committed grave offenses over the centuries. Too often we have failed to live up to our ideals. But to say that is to say that we live in this fallen world rather than a perfect one, a world composed not of angels but of flawed and imperfect beings. And, crucially, our past faults and errors have long been acknowledged and do not deserve the the repetition that suggests either that we have been reluctant to remedy them or that we are inclined to repeat them. What we should say and repeat is this: No nation has shed more blood for more noble causes than the United States. Its beneficence and benevolence are unmatched by any nation on earth, and by any nation in history.
Torture hasn’t been acknowledged. The way we fucked up in Iraq hasn’t been acknowledged by much of the country even if we believe in the abstract it was the wrong war.
But beyond suggesting that all of our problems are some ephemeral distant past, I feel like Mitt Romney has never heard a speech by President Obama. Is that possible? He continues on suggesting that “of all people, we should expect our president to understand” American greatness. Since that’s in every speech Obama has ever made: bar cleared. Romney — mercifully, finally — ends the chapter setting up the next one.
I reject the view that America must decline. I believe in American exceptionalism. I am convinced that we can act together to strengthen our nation, to preserve our global leadership and to protect freedom where it exists and promote it where it does not.
So we’ll start on Why Nations Decline tomorrow.
* I don’t know why being called the West would imply a uniform manner.
** Romney really needs to add “by idiots” here.