When I read Mitt Romney’s remarks at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a statement of his foreign policy, I am stunned by his idea that the United States of America has the power to work its will in the world. He says: “it is our responsibility and the responsibility of the President to use America’s great power to shape history, not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events.” He says at the end of his remarks: “The 21st century can and must be an American century. It began with terror and war and economic calamity. It’s our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom and peace and prosperity.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/us/politics/mitt-romney-remarks-at-virginia-military-institute.html?pagewanted=all)

From a just peace perspective this is not true, and it shows a striking lack of insight about the complexity of the world and a profound lack of respect for other peoples and nations. This was only one of the major weaknesses of a Romney foreign policy as articulated in his VMI speech. The relationship between military hardware to national security and his embrace of the exhausted and obsolete idea of an American century also make his thinking on foreign policy untenable.

First on the notion of shaping history, humility is in order. Abraham Lincoln writing to three Kentuckians about his decision to emancipate the slaves said: “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” (http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm) History is replete with unintended consequences, both good and bad, from various actions. Even Donald Rumsfeld understood that there are unknown unknowns in every situation. So, the notion that the president of the United States can purposefully shape history to his or her will is ridiculous. This does not mean that the nation can have no influence on other actors in the world, but it is important to recognize the moral autonomy of those other actors. That Romney does not understand this shows an amazing naivetĂ©. He also does not grasp the concept of leading from behind.

This comes from a quote from Nelson Mandela who said: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

This means that effective leadership requires a willingness to invite others to play their part in the success of an undertaking. It also means being willing to take risks and face danger when it is most dangerous. Moreover, leading from behind gives the leader a perspective of where others are standing that the leader would not otherwise have. Romney cannot see that leading from behind is still leadership. It is a power-with form of leadership, and not a power-over-do-what-I-tell-you-to-do model. It is a leadership that requires mutual respect, interdependence and cooperation.

Regarding the Middle East, the most intractable problem the world faces is the Israel/Palestine question. Romney says that only a new president can make progress in this area. However, he must know that Palestinians are paying attention when he says in private that there can be no two-state solution and that the Palestinians do not want peace. He said in the secretly recorded tape that someone called him with a suggestion for solving the problem, but he did not follow up. Was he not curious about what the suggestion would be?

In his VMI remarks, he said there would be no daylight between the United States and Israel if he is elected president. How can the United States be an honest broker for peace if it is going to uncritically take Israel’s side? If both nations have the same opinions all the time, then one nation is not necessary to the talks. Further, I doubt whether the Palestinians have forgotten Romney’s statements during his summer 2012 visit to Israel. He cited Israel’s “culture” as the reason for the economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians. He failed to note the real economic hardships of the occupation upon Palestinians.

The most alarming aspect of his speech was his promise to arm Syrian rebels. He said:

“In Syria, I’ll work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and then ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.”

First, I doubt if the Syrian rebels are waiting for Romney’s telephone call to tell them how to “organize” themselves. Does this mean American advisers on the ground? (I suspect there are CIA operatives in Syria already.) With fighters coming across the border from God only knows where with God only knows what intent to fight alongside the rebels, how will Romney tell the good guys from the bad guys? And, how can he be assured that the anti-aircraft weapons he gives to the rebels will not be used to shoot down Israeli aircraft?

We ought to remember that the United States armed and trained the mujahideen in Afghanistan while they fought the Soviet Union, and some of them became the enemy we are fighting to this day. Also, we must tread carefully here lest we stumble into a proxy war with Iran.

Romney talks of a strong military in terms of more military hardware. He quotes Gen. George Marshall saying: “The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it.” Later in his remarks he says he intends to build 15 ships each year including 3 submarines. This when the national security threats against the United States are likely to come from loose nukes and cyber-terrorism rather than from anything that a battleship can deter. This at a time when the federal budget deficit is a national security issue. In selecting this quote from Marshall, Romney misses the most important lesson that General Marshall, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, taught.

In his Nobel Lecture, Marshall said that the United States and the world had failed to learn the lessons of history. Military strength is not, in the long run, the way to get to peace. Marshall said: “Perhaps the most important single factor will be a spiritual regeneration to develop goodwill, faith and understanding among nations.” (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1953/marshall-lecture.html)

Marshall suggests three specific areas for peace – education about history, an attitude of cooperation, and democracy as a means to a better life. These three points given by Marshall coheres with the three pillars of just peace theory as I interpret it – truth, respect and security. Marshall wanted students, especially high school students, to learn “all the factors which have gone into the various incidents now historical that have marked the breakdown of peace in the past.”

He wanted American citizens to be able to recognize a “last clear chance” to keep the peace. He wanted the history to be told with a scientific precision. He said: “Now the progress of science depends on facts and not fancies or prejudice. Maybe in this age we can find a way of facing facts and discounting the distorted record of the past.”

It is important to note that a true remembrance of America’s acting in the world is not equal to apologizing.

Marshall also supported organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. International organizations were, for the most part, missing from Romney’s VMI remarks. He spoke of “heated disputes at the United Nations” regarding Israel/Palestine, and said he would ask NATO members to give 2 percent of their gross domestic product to security spending. He does not say what he will do if they refuse. In just peace theory, international organizations are an important element in peacemaking because they bring nations together to solve the world’s problems through diplomacy and mutual respect.

Marshall’s second point –the attitude of cooperation– requires mutual respect. Marshall referenced the ethnic diversity of the United States as one reason why this country is concerned about the oppressed of other nations. He thought “the attitude of cooperation has been thoroughly proven.” It is difficult for me to see how an “attitude of cooperation” can exist if one nation thinks that it has the authority and responsibility of domination.

Finally, Marshall saw democracy leading to better economic outcomes for the world’s peoples as necessary for peace. I say: democracy and economic development are two aspects of the beating heart of security. Scratch a war and you will find economic disparity and structural violence. It is not surprising that the man for whom the Marshall Plan was named, the plan that brought economic aid to post World War II Europe, would know that economic development is necessary for peace. He saw human rights and democracy as the best means to this end.

When speaking about the necessary ingredient for peace, Marshall spoke of magnanimity, friendship, and the analysis and studies of the causes of war “and the factors that favor peace.” Just peace theory serves this purpose in these opening decades of the 21st century. Ours in now a post-colonial world where concepts such as an American century are exhausted and obsolete.

The idea of an American century was articulated in February of 1941 by publisher Henry Luce. He was writing against American isolationism and in favor of American involvement in World War II. He argued that the United States was already in the war because American wanted Hitler stopped. Luce thought Americans were in the war not in defense of the homeland, but rather in defense of American principles. He referenced a British willingness to recognize the United States as the senior partner.

He acknowledged isolationist arguments – aversion to war, fear of a modern dictatorship that some thought necessary to fight modern wars, and the cost of war leading to a socialized economy. He thought Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats were influenced by socialistic principles, yet he wanted FDR to lead the nation into World War II (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article6139.htm)

Luce was an opponent of FDR and of his leadership, but, unlike the Congressional leadership of today’s GOP who plotted the night of President Obama’s inauguration to obstruct his agenda, Luce wanted FDR to succeed for the good of the country. He wrote: “Our job is to help in every way we can, for our sakes and our children’s sakes, to ensure that Franklin Roosevelt shall be justly hailed as America’s greatest President” (7).

Luce wanted to think of the 20th century as an American century because he saw it as the first century where America held “dominant power in the world.” He cast a vision of America using its economic power to spread free market principles, its military power to guarantee freedom of the seas, its moral power to feed the hungry of the world, even if it means that we eat less, and the power of its ideals – freedom, equal opportunity, self-reliance, independence, cooperation, Justice, Truth, Charity– to advance the moral evolution of humankind.

Luce chose not to see that the values and ideals he wanted to champion across the globe did not fully exist in the United States.

To be fair to Romney, President Obama also speaks about American exceptionalism, the 21st century as an American century, and the United States as the greatest nation on earth. I suspect cheerleader-in-chief is part of the presidential job description. The truth is that the 20th century was not only an American century. It saw the end of colonialism and the growing economic and political power of nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We ought to drop the concept altogether.

The 21st century need not be understood as an American century or Chinese or African or Brazilian or that of any tribe or nation. Power is and has always been too diffuse for such thinking to be correct. I say let us work to make the 21st century a just peace century. Ours can be another axial age where we transition from a logic of war and domination to a logic of peace and cooperation through mutual respect.

In the presidential debate on foreign policy, Mitt Romney spoke of a peaceful and prosperous world. He shifted his positions on Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan to agree with President Obama. He agreed with the president on the use of drones. I do not believe his “me too” shift in positions. I have no idea what Romney truly believes about anything.

What I do know is that whoever wins the White House in 2012 will face a world that is not asking for American domination, but is asking for the United States to participate as an equal partner in finding solutions to the world’s conflicts so that all of the world’s peoples can enjoy the sustenance and joy of life and study war no more.


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