Insignificant Speech: Romney's New Course for the Middle East
Mitt Romney's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed on his vision for America's course in the Middle East is most notable as an example of what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes called "insignificant speech." Hobbes was criticizing those that "speak such words as, when put together, have in them no signification at all . . . ."
Ideas have consequences. Experience demonstrates that empty rhetoric is not conducive to the formulation of prudent policy serving just ends. It is enough to consider George Bush's Freedom Agenda. President Bush claimed to have advanced freedom and peace around the world; a look at the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia demonstrates the delusional character of that claim. The idea that Afghanistan was an "emerging democracy" in 2008 (or 2012 for that matter) is an excellent example of insignificant speech.
Romney's op-ed is certainly not all bad. The best part is his depressing but accurate description of the stupid and feckless policies of the Obama administration. His basic point is that our current policy in the region is drifting along with events. Our lackluster economic recovery, a military threatened by significant budget cuts, and the misapplication and misapprehension of American values lead to greater insecurity. Romney rightly notes that "President Obama has heightened the prospect of conflict and instability."
Romney should be applauded for pointing out the obvious facts the mainstream media has consistently refused to acknowledge. Unfortunately the good news ends there. The rest of Romney's position has no intelligible meaning.
For instance, we are told that the Arab Spring was "an opportunity to help move millions of people from oppression to freedom." Obama supposedly lacked a "strategy for success."
The reader is not given any specifics about what Romney thinks a "strategy for success" looks like; the closest thing to a plan is an admonition for America to use "the full spectrum of . . . soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity" to aid those who have "known only corruption and oppression."
What use of "soft power" or any other strategy would transform Egypt into a society where respect for human equality and the inalienable natural rights of all is the dominant opinion? Is it possible that if George Washington had been in office he would have been able to formulate a policy that would make the Egyptian people elect a Democrat like Jefferson or a Republican like Coolidge rather than the Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi? Of course it doesn't seem as if there is an Egyptian Jefferson or Coolidge to elect in the first place. How soft power is going to rectify this situation is a mystery. The use of abstract jargon like "soft power" is an indication that no cogent, concrete thought is to be found in the vicinity.
Romney also says that it is urgent that a "coherent policy of supporting our partners in the Middle East" is necessary. By "partners" he means governments and individuals that "share our values." The example he provides is Israel. I cannot imagine that Romney could name another partner in the region that shares our values. Who would it be--"allies" such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, or Iraq?
Common sense does show that Israel is the only country in the region that shares our values. Israel is our ally. It is the only decently governed country in the area; this is especially evident when we contrast Israel with American installed or encouraged regimes in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan. But Romney's criticism of Obama and his understanding of what our political relations with Israel should be are nonsensical. Obama is criticized for placing "daylight" between America and Israel; Romney says there should be "no daylight between the United States and Israel."
We can understand Romney to mean that there should be "no daylight" between America and Israel concerning Iran rather than cynically supposing that he means there should be unanimity between the two nations on all issues pertaining to the Middle East. But this position is still unclear and unreasonable. Does Romney mean that the United States and Israel should always agree in public? If there should be a difference of opinion in private, should America always follow Israel, or should Israel always follow America? Is it obvious that there is no possibility of a reasonable, good faith difference between the interests of the United States and Israel relating to Iran under any circumstances? Could "no daylight" mean that America expects Israel to do what the current American administration thinks best?
Washington advised against this type of "political connection." He understood that nations cannot share the same "primary interests." Freedom of action or independence is essential to a sound foreign policy; it allows a nation to decide how best to secure the rights of its citizens under the laws of nature and nature's God. Romney's "no daylight" is the "political connection" condemned by Washington.
I assume that Romney is too sensible to mean what he actually says in this instance. It is more likely that he and his advisors are thinking abstractly. The problem is that abstract thought, disconnected from reality, could lead to greater instability and insecurity--the same defects Romney rightly criticizes in Obama's foreign policy.
We have followed plans based on "insignificant speech" for the last eleven years in the Middle East. We need to demand more than blather about "freedom agendas," "new beginnings," and "no daylight" from our policymakers. Romney can see that our current foreign policy is a mess. He needs to move beyond vapid phrases to the articulation of a policy that secures American rights while respecting the equal rights of other nations. And Romney would do well to remember Lincoln's admonition that the great danger to America is not foreign attack. If liberty dies in America, it will be by suicide, not foreign terrorism.
Empty phrases and abstract jargon will only lead to an increase in the instability and insecurity that Romney rightly attacks in his op-ed. It will also help cause a further erosion of liberty at home. A lack of clarity about principles and policies or means and ends is a chief cause of the drift toward greater insecurity and instability in the Middle East.