Mitt Romney: No Apology: Chapter 3 The Pursuit of Power (pages 65-71)

[I’m reading and doing some metacommentary on Mitt Romney’s book. Enjoy, or skip over it: it’s a free country.]

We’re now at Chapter 3 of Mitt Romney’s book, and if you’ve read the title of this post, you already know it’s called “The Pursuit of Power.” Today we’ll learn about Romney’s general thoughts on nations getting power and China a case study. Next time* Russia and Jihad. He starts the chapter:

The best ally peace has ever known is a strong America.

I agree that a strong America is better than a strong his other examples in this chapter. But when Romney wrote this, we were at no-end-in-sight wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. I think we’re stronger and better as a nation because we got out of Iraq and are slowly, slowly, too damn slowly figuring out how to get ourselves out of Afghanistan. I doubt that’s what Romney meant.

After this statement, he spends several paragraphs saying that America is good. He talks in general about how America promotes human rights and peace but always in generalities. The only specific thing he mentions is after the 2004 Tsunami, the relief efforts. And, of course, we all support keeping America strong when it does those things. But the section doesn’t mention when America doesn’t live up to those things. It doesn’t talk about how we’re often selective in what human rights we enforce. Additionally, he admits that countries that are good may stop being good, but he doesn’t say how he’ll make sure America stays on the right path.

Then he starts the section “The Middle Kingdom Flexes its Muscles.” There’s a Cliff Notes version of China’s history in the 20th century. Mostly losing ground to the Japanese** but also the British make an appearance. And then Mao and the Korean war. After that war ended:

Mao never really took to modernity and technology, and his military continued to reflect that prejudice, maintaining a massive four-million solder army as only a weak compensation for the nation’s obsolete or nonexistent weapons systems and logistical support. It wasn’t until approximately twenty years ago that China decided to build a modern world-class military. Since the mid 1980s, the People’s Liberation Army has been reduced by two million soldiers, cutting its size in half even as military spending was doubled time and again. The new funds went to programs designed to professionalize and train Chinese soldiers as well as toward the purchase of modern arms from Russia: fighter aircraft, helicopters, destroyers, submarines, and antiship missiles.

Then he talks about China’s submarines and their cyber war capabilities. And he draws two conclusions from this. “First, China is catching up” to America. “Second, they have not yet built their military to challenge us heat-to-head around the globe. Instead, they have shaped it to deter us, to match us, or even to defeat us in the specific theaters that are most important to them.” Look, if you’re going to characterize China’s cyber war as mostly deterrent, then that makes it seem reasonable.***

“China has very little interest today in constructing a military capable of fighting us in Africa, Europe, the Americas of the Middle East.” God, I hope we don’t fight their military anywhere. That would be terrible. He gets into some specifics of America’s capabilities, and then, “they build submarines capable of checkmating our battle groups and they invest in cyber- and space-warefare that can blind or at least blinker our navy and air force. And if they become capable of declawing America’s military in Asia, they will gain freedom of action to do whatever they choose in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.” Look, they make a lot of aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and that’s pretty terrible. But I’m not sure it follows that they’ve stopped America (and our allies (?)) from responding in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Or that the other players in the region are just going to let China do anything they want without responding.

Also, other than the we’re good thing earlier, there’s no real reason why Romney thinks America should be the major player in that part of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. I mean China is there and we aren’t. And it’s not that difficult of a thing to come up with something: stability of commerce around the world yada, yada, commitments to our allies, blah blah blah. The point isn’t that there isn’t an argument to be made about why America has a role in the region, especially over China, but it would be nice if Romeny would actually make the argument.

Then there’s a discussion of Taiwan that will (if the Chinese take this book seriously) probably give him headaches.

Taiwan is not China. It is an independent democratic country of 23 million people–more than Australia and more than four times the population of Israel. Taiwan holds free and fair elections, guards its citizens’ civil rights and political liberties, and is also a model of free enterprise, having the twentieth largest economy in the world. If the people of Taiwan were to unite with China, that would be their right, but that has never been the choice of a modern, free Taiwan.

To be clear, I think that’s largely true (except for the fact that Taiwan still largely sees itself as representative of all of China). But it’s always been the sort of thing that Americans with diplomatic power tend to finesse.

Anyway, then Romney is worried that if China takes over Taiwan (as if anyone is saying they should do that) then the next step is maybe Korea and Japan. Then the section ends with Romney saying we still have a lot of influence, and we should keep a strong military presence in the region and support our allies.

* I’m not sure what next time is. I suspect these posts will be somewhat sparse until it gets chilly. My only goal is to finish the book before the election, because after that, it’ll be either useless or super depressing.

** And to Romney’s credit he mentions comfort women. I’m sure that won’t make anyone from Japan who reads his book happy, but it’s the right thing to do. Less to his credit, he uses the phrase “women were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers.” I mean, that’s about the most polite way you can describe that particular horror.

*** I don’t actually think it’s reasonable. Just Romney’s description of it in the military context.


  1. 1

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    China’s military spending is one-tenth of ours.

    We have 11 aircraft carriers in service, 3 under construction, and 1 in reserve; China has 0 in service and 1 under construction.

    We have 14 ballistic missile subs with 336 missile tubes (maximum capacity 4,032 warheads); China has 4 with 48 missile tubes capable of hitting U.S. targets.

    And these raw numbers don’t reflect U.S. technological superiority. Any claim that China is “catching up to us” is nonsense. We’re outspending them 10-to-1 and we’re far ahead of them in technological advances. The truth is they’re falling farther behind us.

  2. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “… Romney is worried that if China takes over Taiwan … then the next step is maybe Korea and Japan.”

    This is shockingly ignorant. China has downsized its army from 4 million to 2 million, which is not much more than it needs to control its own population. China has nowhere near the sealift required to move an army across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait in what would have to be the biggest amphibious operation of all time. And it’s not like Taiwan is undefended. Their air force is a match for China’s and they have serious anti-ship capabilities. Taiwan is known to have worked on nuclear weapons in the past and is considered a “threshold” nuclear power, i.e. capable of producing such weapons. The only reason they don’t have them is because of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella”; i.e., we’ve promised to defend them with ours. Does anyone seriously believe China will try to invade Taiwan, Korea, or Japan? Or that we couldn’t stop them? Romney doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  3. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    You can’t talk about national power without discussing military spending; and you can’t talk about military spending without discussing the larger issue of the economy.

    The Republican meme is that we have to gut entitlements and social problems to fund an adequate miltiary; and we have to keep taxes low for rich people to grow the economy and create jobs. As so often happens when Republicans hatch policy ideas, they’ve inflated small grains of truth into barrage balloons.

    I might as well tell you going in that the guy I’m going to quote is one of the most pessimistic people on Wall Street. Ray Dalio runs the world’s largest hedge fund and is personally worth $10 billion, making him one of the 100 richest person on the planet, so he has some cred when he talks economics. In other words, a lot of serious money people listen to what he says. But, as I said, he’s notoriously pessimistic and things may work out better than he foresees.

    In January 2012, Dalio released his annual forecast, which was summarized by a WSJ article you can read here.

    Basically, he and his associates say the U.S. is on “the wrong side of a long-term debt cycle.” After spending 60 years leveraging up, we now face 15 to 20 years of deleveraging. It will be a “long slog” of low interest rates, slow growth, and high unemployment.

    It’s much worse in Europe, where “you’ve got insolvent banks supporting insolvent sovereigns, and insolvent sovereigns supporting insolvent banks.” Europe is facing a prolonged “deep” recession.

    Another article goes into Dalio’s ideas about the deleveraging process in greater detail here:

    Basically what this says, paraphrasing Dalio, is there are “ugly” and “beautiful” deleveragings. “Ugly” deleveraging is characterized “great economic pain, … social upheaval and sometimes wars, while failing to bring down the debt/income ratio.” The “beautiful” ones are “those with orderly adjustments to healthy production-consumption balances in debt/income ratios.”

    There are four ways to deleverage, and “how [a] deleveraging challenge is resolved depends on the amounts and paces of: 1. Debt reduction, 2. Austerity, 3. Transferring wealth from the haves to the have-nots and 4. Debt monetization.” Screw this up and you can get deflation or inflation, tight credit, falling demand, shrinking asset values, and an avalanche of debt defaults.

    The article then describes the successive phases of debt deleveraging. He says you need the right mix of austerity, money printing and debt monetization, central banks providing liquidity and credit support, and wealth transfers (i.e., increased taxes on the wealthy, financial support programs to help debts, etc.).

    The bottom line: “This produces relief and, if done in the right amounts, allows a deleveraging to occur with positive growth. The right amounts are those that a) neutralize what would otherwise be a deflationary credit market collapse and b) get the nominal growth rate marginally above the nominal interest rate to tolerably spread out the deleveraging process. At such times of reflation, there is typically currency weakness, especially against gold, but this will not produce unacceptably high inflation, because the reflation is simply negating the deflation. History has shown that those who have done it quickly and well (like the US in 2008/09) have derived much better results than those who did it late (like the US in 1930-33).”

    And there’s the “money quote” right there. The U.S. did it right in 2008/2009, and is doing it right now. Consequently, although things are still difficult in the U.S. economy — for job seekers, for homeowners, for business owners, for students, for the middle class and poor — we’re much better off than Europe or Japan during its “lost decade.”

    In other words, Obama has been doing it right, and Romney’s relentless bashing of Obama’s economic leadership is just hot air. Even worse, if Romney gets in office and makes significant policy changes, he’s likely to fuck up and make things worse.

    Another implication of these articles is that if Dalio is right that we’re facing a 15 to 20 year deleveraging process, and the U.S. currently has a “beautiful deleveraging” (i.e. an ideal set of policies), there’s no way to speed it up and that means every promise Romney makes to boost growth and create more jobs is hogwash — he can’t do it. By Dalio’s reasoning, it’ll take a generation and multiple Congresses and presidential administrations to get through this, and if that’s true, our main concern should be that no one who gets control of Congress or the White House fucks up.

    I’m certainly not trying to imply that Ray Dalio endorses Obama. I don’t know what his political leanings are. My guess would be Republican, but he can’t see him approving of GOP platform writers toying with a return to the gold standard.

    I’m not even sure I agree with Dalio, although he has better credentials than I do. But then, so do a lot of people who disagree with him on some things. I do think he’s got the broad outline right, based on what I’ve learned about economics from various other sources. And my own observations of what the U.S. economy and financial markets are doing are roughly in line with the scenario he’s outlined. I just don’t want to believe it’s going to take 15 to 20 years, although it well might. I mean, it makes sense that after we’ve spent 30 years spending ourselves into debt it’s going to take more than a couple years to save our way out of debt, especially when employment and income is down.

    My takeaway from this is that some of what Romney proposes is stupid. Slashing entitlement programs will undercut domestic demand and result in even slower growth or outright contraction. I’m okay with cutting military spending less than sequestration would if you also raise taxes on the rich who have received most of the benefit from the last decade’s tax-slashing, but raising military spending and further tax cuts for the rich at the same time is just plain nuts. That will just push us deeper into debt, when we should be trying to reduce the debt-income ratio.

    Bottom line is a weak economy will lead to a weaker military, so if you want to enhance or maintain national power with robust military spending, you’ve got to have a healthy and growing economy, which means you have to adhere to policies that will produce Dalio’s “beautiful deleveraging.” So regardless of whether the next president is Obama or Romney, if you want to have the werewithal for military spending, you’ve got to continue on the road we’re on with regard to delevering the U.S. economy and getting back on the growth track. You can’t do that by imposing austerity on social spending, transferring more wealth to the already-rich, or shutting down the Federal Reserve’s money-printing. Obama and Bernanke are right, Tea Partiers are wrong, and we don’t know whether Romney is right or wrong because we don’t know what the hell his policy intentions are because he doesn’t want anyone to know.

  4. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    If you’d like to read the long-and-detailed version of Dalio’s deleveraging thesis, you can find it here:

    Basically what I’m trying to say in this thread is that if Romney gets in, and follows the wrong policies, and fucks up the deleveraging process and economy recovery, it’ll negatively impact our ability to support military spending and undercut our national power vis-a-vis rivals like China. In other words, this is a critical election, and voters can’t afford to make the wrong choice on Nov. 6, and based on everything I know about the economy Obama is at worst an adequate choice and Romney is an unknown quantity and possibly a loose cannon.

  5. 7

    YellowPup spews:

    By the time you finish this book, it will be the end of Obama’s second term and everyone will have forgotten who Mitt Romney is.

  6. 9

    Racist Romney Ruminates spews:

    This guy is from Africa therefore we must see his birth certificate…. Racist Rummy Romney Ruminates as he runs as Birther in Chief

  7. 10

    Pete spews:

    As someone with a grad degree in Chinese studies I was going to comment on this, but RR stole my thunder…”shockingly ignorant” doesn’t begin to cover it, especially on the Taiwan material.

    As for “The best ally peace has ever known is a strong America,” that’d be LOL material, except that the rest of the world ain’t laughing? Peace? The US has intervened militarily, overtly or covertly, in more countries than the rest of the world combined in the last 20 years. Since WWII, the list of countries we’ve committed acts of war again is literally scores.

    The majority opinion in the world is that the United States is the world’s biggest threat to peace. This was never more true than under the Bush administration (though Obama gives him a run), and the people Romney has surrounded himself with on foreign affairs, from John Bolton on down, are the most bellicose (and obtuse) of the Dubyatime generation. A President Romney, with unchecked executive power, ignorant, arrogant, and itching to prove himself, would be a menace to world peace.

  8. 11

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @10 He’d also be a menace to the dollar, because wars ain’t cheap, and we all know how Republicans pay for wars — by borrowing from China!!!