Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Romney endorses Obama's national security policies

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
October 23, 2012 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Bergen: Romney essentially backed all of Obama's security policies
  • He says there was little difference in the positions of the two candidates on Syria, Iran
  • Romney dropped any effort to question withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014
  • Bergen: Romney's talk of spending more on the military was unsupported by strategy

Editor's note: Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, is director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation and the author of the new book "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad."

(CNN) -- Mitt Romney came to Monday night's debate with a choice.

He could run to the right of President Obama on national security issues and also differentiate himself on such tricky matters as what to do about Syria, or the United States' complicated alliance with Pakistan.

Or he could essentially endorse Obama's aggressive campaign against American enemies such as al Qaeda and the Iranian regime and his administration's approach to knotty problems such as Syria and Afghanistan.

Despite some earlier campaign rhetoric, Romney chose to align himself almost completely with the Obama administration's approaches to these issues.

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen

In a general election this makes good sense, as this happens to be in tune with what most Americans think. A majority do not want to become embroiled in a war with Iran and are comfortable with the muscular use of CIA drones against al Qaeda in Pakistan, which is one of the hallmarks of the Obama administration's approach to combating terrorism.

Opinion: Obama in command; Romney plays it safe

Romney decried the deaths of 30,000 Syrians in the revolt against dictator Bashar al-Assad and was adamant that the al-Assad regime must and will go, but underlined that in his administration there would be no U.S. military role to end the bloodshed. "I don't want to have our military involved in Syria," Romney declared.

Romney also explained that he would ensure that "responsible" Syrian opposition groups would get arms while simultaneously halting "arms that get into the -- the wrong hands. Those arms could be used to hurt us down the road."

That's exactly the Obama administration's position. It is not getting the U.S. military involved in Syria and is working with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are arming the Syrian rebels, but is also pressuring those allies to ensure that heavy weapons do not flow into the hands of jihadist groups -- not an easy task, given the present chaos in Syria.

Neither Obama nor Romney raised the idea in the debate of enforcing some kind of no-fly zone over Syria, which would likely be a real game changer, as al-Assad's forces presently enjoy almost complete air superiority over the rebels.

On Iran, Romney was adamant that the country must not acquire a nuclear weapon, saying that he would impose "crippling" sanctions to ensure this goal.

Opinion: Romney walked into 'bayonets' line

Obama, Romney spar over troops in Iraq
Obama: Romney wrong on bin Laden
Romney: 'I see our influence receding'

That's, of course, the Obama administration's current policy. The sanctions currently in place on Iran, as Obama correctly noted in the debate, have caused the Iranian currency to drop 80% in value since the end of 2011.

And the Obama administration, working closely with the Israelis, has unleashed a quite effective series of cyberattacks against the Iranian nuclear program -- known as the Stuxnet and Flame viruses -- which have set back the nuclear program significantly, a fact that neither candidate mentioned.

Romney did proffer the slightly batty idea of indicting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel, under what Romney termed the Genocide Convention, on the grounds that Ahmadinejad's "words amount to genocide incitation."

When there are still real genocides to be prosecuted, this seems both like a waste of time and also promotes the un-American idea of prosecuting hateful speech.

On the covert CIA drone program in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, Romney gave the Obama administration a ringing endorsement: "I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology."

And on whether the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak had to go during the "Arab Spring," both Romney and Obama strongly agreed: He had to go.

Politics: Disappointment in debate on the global side

Each candidate tried to outdo the other to express the strongest possible support for Israel, saying interchangeable things about Israel being a true friend and the U.S. having Israel's back if it was attacked. Swing voters in Florida won't find any "daylight" between the candidates on this issue!

Neither candidate suggested what a plausible way forward might entail to help shape a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, something the United States once played a leading role in trying to negotiate.

When asked by the moderator, CBS's Bob Schieffer, if it was time to "divorce" America's problematic ally Pakistan, Romney was adamant: "No, it's not time to divorce a nation on earth that has a hundred nuclear weapons and is on the way to double that at some point, a nation that has serious threats from terrorist groups."

This is exactly the Obama administration's stance on Pakistan.

Both candidates avoided discussing in any detail what surely will consume considerable time of the next commander in chief after he assumes office in January 2013 -- how to responsibly wind down America's longest war, the conflict in Afghanistan.

Just two weeks ago in a keynote foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said of the Afghanistan drawdown, "I'll evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation."

This seemed to leave on the table the prospect of U.S. combat troops remaining in Afghanistan after the scheduled drawdown date at the end of 2014 were Romney to be elected and was one of the few tangible significant differences on national security between the two candidates.

But during Monday's debate, Romney echoed the Obama position: "When I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so."

Romney's change of heart may have something to do with the fact that according to a poll in March, less than a quarter of Americans continued to back the Afghan War. Another poll in the same month found that half of Americans actually favored speeding up the planned 2014 withdrawal.

There is also the small matter that the date of the planned 2014 withdrawal of U.S. combat troops has been negotiated and agreed to not only by the Afghan government, but also by NATO allies and the more than 40 countries with some kind of presence in Afghanistan.

Opinion: Was Obama too relentless with Romney?

For his part, during the debate Obama did not mention the Strategic Partnership Agreement that his administration has spent considerable effort in negotiating with Afghanistan that would keep some as-yet-unspecified number of American troops in an advisory role in Afghanistan up until 2024.

Whoever is in the Oval Office next year is scheduled to complete the negotiations of this long-term agreement with the Afghan government. It will spell out in detail the roles and numbers of what will likely be many thousands of American troops who could remain in Afghanistan for a decade beyond 2014.

This fact went unmentioned in Monday's debate because few Americans have any appetite left for the Afghan intervention.

Where there was major disagreement was on defense spending, which the Romney campaign says should not be cut. Romney cited a factoid that he has used before on the campaign trail, which is that the U.S. Navy today is supposedly smaller than it was in 1917.

This set up Obama for some of his best lines of the night: "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

This served implicitly to make a larger point, which is that other than some vague gauzy rhetoric about the need for America to be stronger, Romney has never really articulated a strategy distinct from Obama's that would necessitate the larger military that he is calling for.

In any event, the notion that the U.S. is falling behind militarily is laughable. Last year the U.S. spent more on defense than the 13 countries with the next highest defense budgets combined.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT