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Romney's Foreign Policy Speech

Aired October 8, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

In the race for President of the United States, domestic policy has so far dominated both campaigns. But today, Republican candidate Mitt Romney took on the world in his first major foreign policy address, he accused President Barack Obama of failing to assert American leadership in the world's most volatile regions.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we look at the Middle East today, with Iran closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threatening to destabilize the region and with violent extremists on the march, and with an American ambassador and three others dead likely at the hands of Al Qaeda affiliates, it's clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office.

I know the president hopes for a safer, freer and more prosperous Middle East allied with us. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy.


AMANPOUR: And as Mitt Romney presented his world view, President Barack Obama fought back with an ad sharply critical of Romney's foray into this arena so far.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reckless, amateurish; that's what news media and fellow Republicans called Mitt Romney's gaffe-filled July tour of England, Israel and Poland.

When our U.S. diplomats were attacked in Libya, "The New York Times" said Romney's kneejerk response "showed an extraordinary lack of presidential character." And even Republican experts said Romney's remarks were the worst possible reaction to what happened.

If this is how he handles the world now, just think what Mitt Romney might do as president.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Polls indeed do show that a majority of Americans clearly prefer Barack Obama's foreign policy.

But with the race now tightening and presidential debates this month suddenly providing an opening for Governor Romney to seem, well, presidential, he's seizing the moment, seeking to differentiate himself on everything from Syria, the entire Arab Spring, the stalled Middle East peace process and even Obama's signature drones policy.


AMANPOUR: Still, there does seem to be a struggle within the Romney foreign policy team over defining the exact details and direction of a Romney administration. My guest, David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for "The New York Times," has reported extensively on this and also in his book, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."

Also joining me, Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Clinton administration, who spent a career both helping make foreign policy and communicating it to the world. Yes, he is also my husband.

Welcome to both of you, Jamie, David glad to see you.

Let me ask you first, David, because you wrote a front page for "The New York Times" today on what you call the fractured (ph) Romney foreign policy team. Did you see that fracture show up in the speech?

DAVID SANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, Christiane, I think we did because the speech was a very good critique, I thought, of how American foreign policy has somewhat lost some of its influence in the Middle East. But it made the assumption that the U.S. is at the center of the -- of the issue here. And, of course, these uprisings are more about them than they are about us.

Where you saw the fractures take place was the very hesitant way that Governor Romney got into the question of how the United States should intervene. Let's look at a few examples.

Syria would be one. He made the case that the Syrian rebels needed to be armed against President Assad and, in fact, the Obama administration has been allowing some of the Gulf states to go do that. But he stopped short of saying it was the U.S. that should provide those (inaudible).



SANGER: He seemed to walk up to it, but didn't quite say it. And you saw this in a number of other issues as well, where --

AMANPOUR: And we're going to --

SANGER: -- he was a little hesitant on intervention.

AMANPOUR: And we're going to pull out actually some of his sound bites and testimonials on these issues.

But let me first ask you, you're a Democrat. How did you see this potential Republican foreign policy?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, I think the Romney we saw today give the speech was working very, very hard to appear moderate. It wasn't the extreme wing of the Republican Party, those who would bomb first and ask questions later.

I think it was a pretty moderate critique, as David put it; it was a critique in many ways of the part of the Obama administration that, I think, many people have been frustrated by, the idea that we really have very little influence over some of these events.

And so the speech that he put forward, the rhetoric, the critique, I would say was largely reasonable in the sense that he critiqued why we haven't done more here, should have done more there.

But what it didn't have -- and I think this will probably be because of the debate within their camp -- it didn't have much in the way of specifics. It wasn't a real policy speech; it was more of a thematic speech.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, let's take an issue.

David, you raised it that Syria really important, this administration, the whole world has not figured out how to grapple with the Syrian crisis. This is what Governor Romney said about what he would do as president on Syria.


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


AMANPOUR: So, Jamie, that is a difference from the current status quo, where the Obama administration is allowing things like AK-47s to get there, not the kind of heavy weapon that Romney was talking about.

RUBIN: Yes, I think I slightly disagree with David Sanger, much as I respect him, on this issue, because yesterday reports came out of the Middle East, that the administration is specifically discouraging the Saudi government, which is the crucial government, from providing antitank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, the kind of weapons the rebels would need to succeed, not just standing aside and letting the Saudis do it, but specifically and actively trying to tell them, don't do this; the danger is too great.

While Romney is saying that we should, the specifics to be determined later, but we, the United States, working with our partners, should be providing anti-aircraft weapons, antitank weapons, essentially heavy weapons, not tanks, but heavy weapons to the rebels. That is a big difference from Obama.

AMANPOUR: So David, from your reporting on all of this -- and it is a big difference; we've all been reporting on this -- is Washington ready to get more involved in Syria?

SANGER: Well, it doesn't seem to me that President Obama is. Clearly if you took the direction that you're hearing from Governor Romney, he certainly is. But when you look at the wording of the speech, he stops short of saying "we will provide." He said we must ensure they are provided with.

So that may mean outsiders -- and I think Jamie's absolutely right. That may mean unleashing the Saudis or Qatar (ph) or others to provide heavier weapons.

But what struck me in each and every area where he was taking up a difference with President Obama -- and certainly I think you could argue that President Obama has been underactive in promoting some of the democracy and some of the Arab Spring states or even governments that would be friendly to the United States.

But what he was very careful not to do was make the case that he would go back to George W. Bush-style interventions.

So for example, in Iraq, he said that President Obama pulled the American troops out too quickly, didn't reach the agreement that would be needed, and now Iraq is devolving into something messy that may go against American interests. But he didn't say that this would never bring American forces back in.

AMANPOUR: Let's go to Iran, which is something that everybody's concerned about, and we've seen over the last week, certainly, the pressure, the sanctions; the rial has collapsed and there have been protests in the streets, which have been basically forcibly stopped now. But look at what he said on Iran.


ROMNEY: I'll put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions, not just words, that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.


AMANPOUR: How different is that, Jamie? I guess I get all bogged down with this word "capability." The two seem to have a different red line.

RUBIN: Certainly by using "capability," you're implying that any enrichment of uranium, which is the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon's capability, would be prevented. But I don't think it's something that President George Bush didn't do; it's not something that President Obama's been able to do.

And in the end, this language that he's using is almost identical to the language President Obama used before Jewish groups in the run up to the 2008 election. Everybody says they're going to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

The problem is when you get into office, you discover that it isn't so easy, that sanctions haven't stopped them from enriching uranium. And the real choice, using force or not, is one that Romney is running away from.

Earlier in the campaign, he was acting as if he was really going to use military force against Iran. And that's why I think this is a tack to the middle, because he's downplaying the words that he used to use during the Republican primaries.

AMANPOUR: And, David, let me turn to you on drones, because he even criticized the signature Obama foreign policy tool, which has been the drones and the pursuit of Al Qaeda and other terrorists, and obviously the eventual getting of Osama bin Laden. He said, yes, they're a great tool, but it's not a strategy. Does he have a point there?

SANGER: I think he does, and I think that this is an area where President Obama is quite vulnerable. Obviously, the drone attacks began under President Bush, but we've seen nearly a sixfold increase under in President Obama's first 31/2, nearly four years in office, over the number of drone attacks, particularly in Pakistan, that we saw during the entirety of the Bush administration.

And I think the argument he was making was that President Obama has grown overly reliant on this as a tool and that it's a tactic; it's not really a strategy. And in fact, you know, if you believe you can't kill your way to peace, then he's got a good point.

I wanted to go back to something Jamie said before on the capability on Iran, because I think the key there is an important distinction.

President Obama has said he would stop Iran from getting a weapon. But when we've pressed him -- and I tried this in an interview a few years ago -- on whether that meant you would also stop him from getting just a few screwdriver turns away, he won't go there. And you will see -- or you did see in this -- in the speech that Governor Romney did go there, and said I won't let them get a capability.

Now the hard part about this is you could argue, depending on how you define capability, that the Iranians already have that, that they've got fuel enriched to a sufficient degree that, with some additional enrichment, they could build a weapon.

So the question is how close do you let them get? And I think what Governor Romney was trying to do was say my red line you'd reach before you reach President Obama's.

AMANPOUR: And, Jamie, last word on the Middle East peace process, he recommitted an American presidency to getting the two-state solution; whereas before, in a sort of a hidden video, he had said there's no way; we can't have a Palestinian state. It's just not going to happen. We're just going to manage it the best we can.

What is your prediction for either president recommitting?

RUBIN: Well, I think this statement by Romney is the most revealing in the speech, because essentially what he's saying is any new president is going to have a new policy. When you look at the specifics, he says, a new Middle East policy needs a new president, without any detail as to how you're going to go about doing it.

Clearly he wanted to get away from the idea that he was against peace in the Middle East. Peace talks have not occurred really. The entire Obama administration, it's a matter of great frustration. But Romney hasn't given us any indication why it would be any different under his presidency.

AMANPOUR: Jamie, David Sanger, thank you very much indeed.

SANGER: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So we've just had a glimpse of Mitt Romney's world view. And when we come back, how the world views Mitt Romney and the United States -- in particular, the Muslim world. But before we go to a break, take a look at these two pictures. That is Mr. Romney back in September at a campaign fundraiser in Beverly Hills, California.

And on the very same day, President Obama made a campaign stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As you can see, when it comes to running for president, you can never have a big enough American flag. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We continue our conversation on Mitt Romney's foreign policy vision.

Doug Saunders has spent a lot of time in many of the areas that Governor Romney just talked about today, including Benghazi, Libya, where he met and spent some time with the late American ambassador, Chris Stevens.

Saunders has written extensively on the Middle East for Canada's "Global Mail" newspaper. As developments raised the ugly specter of extremism and anti-Western violence again, Saunders tackles this issue head-on in his book, "The Myth of the Muslim Tide," and he joins me now.

Thanks for coming in to the studio.

DOUG SAUNDERS, AUTHOR: Real pleasure, Christiane, thanks.

AMANPOUR: So you did spend some time in Benghazi and you met Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Let me play you what specifically Mitt Romney said about that incident today.


ROMNEY: The attack on our consulate there on September 11th, 2012, was likely the work of forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. After the attack on our consulate, tens of thousands of Libyans, most of them young people, held a massive protest in Benghazi against the very extremists who had murdered our people.


AMANPOUR: So I thought it was very interesting, the formulation of that, because he did go to the trouble of talking about the other side of the story, not just the violence.

How do you see that and how do you read the notion that 34 percent of Americans -- that's a third of the American people -- believe that all of Libya -- it was Libya, the majority of the population, that attacked the consulate that led to the murder of Ambassador Stevens?

SAUNDERS: This is the real worry, because what -- and I'm glad to see that Mr. Romney has decided to take a more moderate position on this. But a lot of what's been coming from him and his party has been suggesting that it was Libya that attacked Ambassador Stevens and so on, who, of course, was a great believer that this would not be the case, that the Libyan people would support the United States.

And so in fact, there's much to suggest that's true. The overwhelming majority of seats elected in their parliament are secular, liberal non- Islamists and so on. And the indications of public opinion have been pro- American and so on.

So the problem is that it -- the Republicans would like to suggest that it was -- that it was part of some larger thing, because if it was just a criminal act committed by a very fringe organization, well, then, it's a fairly lower order security problem.

The problem of securing the United States embassies in North Africa, a serious concern but nothing on the -- on the order of the political accomplishment that would be required to get an entire Arab population on the U.S. side.

AMANPOUR: But so let's talk about this, because many Americans, many Europeans, many people around the world look at this spasm and explosion of violence last month and they say, oh, there we go again; we knew it. These are not real democracies. It's just unleashing the worst kind of extremism.

How does the next American president, whether it be Obama or Romney, deal with that, deal with these new democracies who face this seminal challenge of tamping (ph) down that extremism?

SAUNDERS: There are extremists in their midst. The extremists are not major political movements. I mean, the Al Qaeda-linked groups are not part of a political constituency. I mean, they're not linked to the Islamists who are religion political parties, not very desirable in their own right.

But they're not -- they're not -- they're not linked to the -- to the violent extremists of Al Qaeda and their brother organizations.

And I think -- I think we need to separate those two things, and we need to realize that even in Egypt, which has some more serious problems with getting a civil society and government going, that the people who were revolting outside of the embassy were not representative of the population.

AMANPOUR: And in fact, many times they tell us, why do you just focus on the violence? Well, obviously, in this case, the violence was terrible and it had terrible consequences in Libya.

But as even Governor Romney talked about was the majority who then went and counter-demonstrated against these militias and against these -- against these extremists. What do you think is the result of the United States sitting on the sidelines in Syria?

SAUNDERS: They can't win. I mean, if you try to arm the Syrian rebels, and I notice Mitt Romney was a little bit vague about exactly what he was going to do -- the problem is the CIA is sitting there telling you that if you -- if you -- even if you try to choose just the pro-American groups -- and they really don't line up that way; they don't identify themselves as saying we're the pro-American something -- they're -- you're at a great risk of getting those weapons, things like heat-seeking missiles, into the hands of the very sorts of people who killed Ambassador Stevens.

AMANPOUR: Really? That's your prognosis?


AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) no way to organize --

SAUNDERS: It's not so easy. It's not so easy. I mean, certainly everybody's been looking at a way to do this. But I don't -- this is not as simple as Libya, where there was a well-organized opposition that you could simply support with NATO airstrikes --

AMANPOUR: Let's switch to the basic theme of your book, which is, as you call it, "The Myth of the Muslim Tide: The Irrational Hatred of Muslim Immigrants."

Where does that stem from? When we hear, for instance, in Europe, countries like Germany or France and people say, oh, they're going to take over. They're here with hostile intent and they're going to outnumber the non-Muslims. Where does that come from? And is it true?

SAUNDERS: Those of us in the West and in North America and Europe have had a couple things happen at the same time. We've had immigration from Muslim majority countries, mostly since 1990; not the largest source of immigration, but some -- at the same time as we've had the news about Islamic extremism and Al Qaeda terrorism and so on.

And I think a lot of reasonable people have asked questions about, well, do my neighbors with the headscarves and beards support this stuff? Are they -- are they part of the same ideological belief as the terrorists and so on?

And unfortunately, during the last 10 years, we've seen a lot of answers coming from best-selling books, YouTube videos, blog sites and so on, saying, yes. There's a completely continuity between your neighbor, Muhammad, and Osama bin Laden that is an ideology of conquest; that they're having enormous numbers of babies and they're going to become majorities in European countries --

AMANPOUR: What did your research show?

SAUNDERS: I spent some time during the last few years we've had a sort of revolution in our understanding of Muslim populations in the West. We have a whole wide range of sets of data now available to understand them.

And what we're seeing in North America and in western Europe is a pattern of immigrant groups from religious minorities. It was followed roughly by, for example, southern European Catholics in the United States, eastern European Ashkenazi Jews in Britain and North America and so on, of a difficult struggle at the beginning, educational and economic integration happening slowly, sometimes a return to religion in a second generation and so on.

But a very surprisingly quick integration into the population patterns, family sizes and values of the host countries. We're seeing a fairly normal immigration pattern among Moroccans and Turks in Europe among Arabs in the United States and so on.

AMANPOUR: So you decide -- you sort of concluded that this irrational fear was, in fact, irrational and not supported by the data?

SAUNDERS: It's not, no. I mean, Muslims are not poised to become a majority anywhere. They are not seeking to impose sharia law and they are not supporting --

AMANPOUR: Despite the fact that politicians here say they are?

SAUNDERS: It has become a -- it has become a real catchphrase in the United States to talk about stealth sharia. Newt Gingrich and several other Republican leadership candidates made it part of their platforms and so on. It has no basis in reality.

And it's the same thing that was said about Roman Catholics, right up until the end of the 1950s, that they are actually an ideology of conquest, not so much a religion (inaudible).


AMANPOUR: And interestingly, Mitt Romney himself has never made those sort of slurs against them. And people say, well, because he comes from a bit of a minority --

SAUNDERS: (Inaudible) religious minority group that has -- that has suffered these sort of rumors and so on. And to his credit, he has not given credence to the voices coming from elsewhere in his party, suggesting that your ordinary Muslim-American is a Fifth Columnist, disloyal, is a threat to the country.

But those voices are stirring right below the surface. A number of Congress people made statements over the summer, accusing top government officials of being disloyal simply because they're Muslim. We certainly heard it in the leadership realm.

AMANPOUR: Michelle Bachmann, a former presidential candidate, said that, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the U.S. government.

SAUNDERS: Yes, this sort of thing, it's a dangerous repeat of history and we need to look at the facts. We need to be -- we need to step back a bit, not let what we're seeing in the Middle East poison our views of our neighbors.

AMANPOUR: Doug Saunders, thank you very much.

"The Myth of the Muslim Tide," an important book.

Thank you and we will be back right after a break.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, you heard Mitt Romney talk about squeezing Iran with more sanctions during that speech. Yes, the Iran government feels pressure. But the real people suffering are the Iranian people themselves.

But now imagine a world where people matter as much as foreign policy. A new documentary, "The Iran Job," tells the true story of Kevin Sheppard (ph), a young American who goes to Iran to play professional basketball and discovers a country and a people who embrace him in return. Take a look.


(voice-over): My first response, when I heard about Iran, was hell, no. But God put something in my spirit and said you need to get away from the familiar and go to the unfamiliar. And here I am.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) people. You (inaudible) people, too? Everybody like (inaudible). You my man? You my man?

Yes, I smoke marijuana in America. Yes. (Inaudible).

Bad boy. You's a bad boy, (inaudible).



AMANPOUR: People to people diplomacy even in the higher stakes countries. I'm Christiane Amanpour, thanks for watching, goodbye from New York.