Has Mitt Romney adopted a hawkish persona to win votes, or are his opinions on the world shaped by reality? Either way, Romney's foreign policy rhetoric is currently taking center stage during the ongoing Republican presidential primary.
In a Friday Associated Press article, Stephen Hurst wrote, "The world according to Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney: Europeans are socialists. The Chinese are currency manipulators. Russia can't be trusted to abide by nuclear agreements. The Palestinians are out to destroy Israel. And the U.S. is too generous with humanitarian aid."
From campaign appearances, to debate performances, to op-eds in national newspapers, Romney's foreign policy stances have been widely disseminated, scrutinized and criticized.
In Romney's victory speech after winning the New Hampshire primary, Romney tied President Barack Obama's policies with Europe, saying the president wants to "fundamentally transform" America.
"He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity," Romney said. "The President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America. This president puts his faith in government. We put our faith in the American people."
Romney's criticisms come as the euro zone faces a growing debt crisis that is unsettling markets worldwide. Greece, which was swept by violent riots in response to a new austerity package, hoped Friday that it would win an additional bailout of $170 billion.
Moody's warned Thursday it may cut the credit ratings of 17 global and 114 European financial institutions, while last week Moody's cut the ratings of Italy, Spain and Portugal. It also warned it could also strip France, Britain and Austria of their AAA grade. Standard & Poor cut France's and Austria's top ratings and downgraded seven other euro nations last month as well, Reuters reports.
"The U.S. must take care of its own crisis, and won't give a dollar to save Europe," Romney said in January. "Europeans have a duty to solve their crisis with the means at their disposal."
A member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, recently spoke at a gathering of conservatives in Washington, D.C., echoing many of Romney's European themes.
"You look at the reforms being undertaken by this administration, they're not a series of random initiatives that have just been lashed together accidentally, they amount to a comprehensive policy of Europeanization — European health care, European day care, European college education, European nuclear disarmament, European carbon taxes, the whole package," Hannan said. "When you adopt those things, you don't just become like any other country. You become less prosperous, less independent, less democratic, and less free. We are at the end of the road that you have just set out along."
Hurst, the Associated Press writer, questioned whether Romneys' rhetoric could damage U.S. relations abroad if he is elected president. However, Robert C. O'Brien, writing about the ongoing Falklands dispute at The Diplomat, suggested that President Obama's foreign policies are already sending the wrong message to other countries.
"The shabby treatment meted out to America's 'special relationship' partner in this instance cannot be seen as a surprise," O'Brien said. "It is in line with the administration's treatment of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (at least prior to Bob Turner winning Anthony Weiner's Congressional seat in New York.) Poland and the Czech Republic suffered similar slights after the administration unilaterally canceled ABM sites in those countries as part of it naive and, so far, unsuccessful attempt to 'reset' relations with Russia. And, there has been much criticism of the administration for failing to provide Taiwan with the latest F-16 fighters that it has long requested to defend itself against a potential attack by China."
In a Thursday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Romney wrote that America must rebuild its strength in the 21st century, ensuring a competitive advantage over China and the rest of the world. Otherwise, he said, "The character of the Chinese government — one that marries aspects of the free market with suppression of political and personal freedom — would become a widespread and disquieting norm."
In his opinion piece, Romney laid out a policy toward China that would designate China as a currency manipulator, counter Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property and currency valuation, maintain military forces commensurate to the challenge posed by China's build-up, reverse the Obama administration's defense cuts, confront Chinese abuse of human rights and ensure that Asia remains open for cooperative trade.
"The sum total of my approach will ensure that this is an American, not a Chinese century," Romney concluded. "We have much to gain from close relations with a China that is prosperous and free. But we should not fail to recognize that a China that is a prosperous tyranny will increasingly pose problems for us, for its neighbors and for the entire world."
Former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman discussed Romney's op-ed piece with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, saying it was "wrongheaded" to talk about slapping a tariff on China on day one.
"[This relationship with China] is not going to be based on sound bites, it's not going to be based on short-term fixes and solutions — it is a long term play between our people," Huntsman said.
Huntsman endorsed Romney on January 16 after dropping out of the race, but prior to his endorsement, his criticisms on Romney's China policy were often more pointed.
"I think it's important to note, as they say in China, 'ta butai liaojie zhege qingxing.' He doesn't seem to understand the situation," Huntsman said during a January 8 debate.
David Frum at The Daily Beast said Romney's stance is more than knee-jerk populism.
"The trade relationship with China is becoming increasingly adversarial. Currency manipulation is only one part of a more complicated and disturbing story," Frum wrote. "If the West loses the power to impose its rules on China, we may find ourselves with no choice but to adapt to a world with fewer rules — and more zero-sum competition China is not a democracy, will not soon be any kind of democracy, and in any event does not see its interests as aligned with ours. We need to be very cautious, then, about assuming that our interests are aligned with China's."
The Financial Times warned that a trade war with China may be coming anyway, based on an airline carbon tax. Salon's Joanna Lewis also suggested that a U.S.-China trade war may begin because of clean energy.
In a 2010 op-ed piece with The Washington Post, Romney wrote that Obama's New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia "could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet." New-START was signed February 2, 2011.
According to the piece, Romney's criticisms of the treaty included complaints that it let Russia escape the limit on its number of strategic nuclear warheads, that the U.S. must reduce its number of launchers but Russia will not, that it ignores tactical nuclear weapons, that it forbids the U.S. from converting intercontinental ballistic missile silos into missile defense sites and that America "must effectively get Russia's permission for any missile defense expansion."
"By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiation," Romney wrote at the time. "Perhaps the president's eagerness for global disarmament led his team to accede to Russia's demands, or perhaps it led to a document that was less than carefully drafted."
Media Matters for America, a group dedicated to fighting "conservative misinformation," said Romney's assertions on New START were "false and misleading."
More recently, in a December interview Romney told The Daily Telegraph that "where President [Vladimir] Putin has returned to some of the more heated rhetoric of the past, I think he endangers the stability and peacefulness of the globe."
Friday, CBS News reported that Putin, who is running for president in Russia, has made anti-American rhetoric a central part of his campaign. Putin has cast his opponents as U.S. lackeys, said that the U.S. wants to subdue Russia and has accused the U.S. of starting protests against him.
"The current campaign is laden with anti-Americanism," Sergei Oznobishchev, head of a Moscow think tank, told CBS News. "It's like clothing they dust off and put on for certain occasions, currently for electoral purposes."
In January during a CNN-sponsored debate, Romney said Palestinians are not interested in a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution," Romney said. "It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution; they want to eliminate the state of Israel."
On Tuesday, however, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel is to blame for the deterioration of peace between the two sides.
"Israel's actions have made the two state solution impossible and that is unacceptable," Abbas said.
Abbas recently told the Arab League that the conditions for resuming peace talks with Israel include basing talks on the 1967 lines, a halt to construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and the release of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement from 1988 suggests that Romney's rhetoric may be based on official policy coming from some leaders in the Middle East.
Article 15 of the document states, "The day that enemies usurp part of Moslem land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised."
Romney, like most of the Republican presidential candidates, has called for a reduction in U.S. aid being sent to foreign countries.
In the CNN Las Vegas debate in October, Romney said the Chinese should be giving more to help others around the world.
"I happen to think it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid," Romney said. "We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking that borrowed money."
In a November debate, Romney echoed an idea voiced by then-candidate Rick Perry that foreign aid should begin at zero, and work its way up.
After the debate, Obama's reelection campaign website posted criticism of this position.
"Stand against 'zeroing out' aid to Israel," the site said. "Republican candidates for president Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich all say they would cut foreign aid to Israel — and every other country — to zero. Stand up to his extreme isolationism and join the call to reject the Romney-Perry-Gingrich plan."
Politifact rated the website's claim as a "ridiculous distortion of their positions on this extremely sensitive issue."
While cutting foreign aid may seem like an easy target as the U.S. grapples with more than $15 trillion of debt, Emma Welch at the Council on Foreign Relations cautioned that U.S. foreign aid, despite being criticized for high-profile aid given to countries like Pakistan and Egypt, makes the biggest impact on efforts that do not make headline news.
Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann warned in a November debate that cutting aid to every country is "highly nave," and that not all aid equals writing blank checks to America's enemies. Pakistan, for instance, she said, is too nuclear to fail.
Foreign aid has become a hot-button issue between Egypt and the U.S., with the U.S. stuck between a rock and a hard place. While a recent Gallup poll shows that 71 percent of Egyptians oppose U.S. economic aid to Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood threatened to review the country's peace treaty with Israel if the U.S. cut off its aid.