Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Romney endorses Obama's national security policies

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
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
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT