by: Valerie Elverton-Dixon on October 24th, 2012 | 2 Comments »
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 naiveté. He also does not grasp the concept of leading from behind.