Opinion

The Great Debate

Mitt Romney’s inflated fearmongering

By Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko
June 4, 2012

“I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It’s not.” With these words, delivered at a Memorial Day commemoration last Monday in San Diego, Mitt Romney perpetuated what is perhaps the greatest single myth in American foreign policy – that we live in a world of lurking danger and rising threats.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the world today is safer than at any point in human history. Wars of all kind, including civil wars, are on the decline; and inter-state war, in particular, is even rarer. According to the Uppsala University Conflict Database, in 1992, there were 53 armed conflicts raging in 39 countries around the world; in 2010, there were 30 armed conflicts in 25 countries.

And when wars do occur, they are for the most part low-intensity conflicts that, on average, kill about 90 percent fewer people than did violent struggles in the 1950s, according to the Human Security Report Project at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University. In fact, the first 10 years of this century witnessed fewer deaths from war than any decade in the last century

Even more important, the worst and most violent types of conflicts, great power wars, have virtually disappeared. There hasn’t been one in six decades, and a big part of the reason is that there is not a single country with the capabilities or inclination to confront the world’s biggest and most powerful nation – the United States.

Beyond war’s declining appeal, freedom is actually on the march. According to Freedom House there are 117 electoral democracies in the world, up from 69 at the end of the Cold War. The world today is also more prosperous, better educated and far healthier than ever before. A world defined by such positive attributes is a world far less likely to find itself mired in a future of violence and war.

These rather unassailable facts are all too often disputed by hyped-up threats and fears of global bogeymen. To be sure, threat inflation is a bipartisan tactic, practiced by both Republicans and Democrats. But Romney’s use of it is particularly harmful, since his solutions would be unilateral and overly militarized, two approaches that have served America poorly since 9/11. Moreover, his “evidence” that the world is unsafe is often based on unsubstantiated allegations that provide a misleading view of the global environment.

For example, on Monday, Romney claimed that “Iran is rushing to become a nuclear nation. As the national sponsor of terror around the world, the thought of missile material in the hands of Hezbollah or Hamas or other terrorists is simply unthinkable.”

In fact, there’s no evidence that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program – a view held by both America’s own intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Romney is likely referring here to fissile material, but it would be difficult for Iran to export it, since it doesn’t actually possess weapons-grade fissile material. While it’s true that Iran has supported terrorist organizations, it is implausible that if Iran were ever able to pursue a nuclear weapons program it would simply hand such invaluable and destructive technologies to terrorists to use as they pleased. Such fantastical notions are appropriate for Hollywood movies, not actual foreign affairs.

Next Romney asserts that “China’s on the road to becoming a … military superpower.” That’s one extremely long road, because China, while a regional power in East Asia, is quite far from being a military superpower and even further from being able to confront the United States directly. As General Robert Kehler, head of U.S. nuclear forces, said yesterday: “I do not see the Chinese strategic deterrent as a direct threat to the United States. We are not enemies.” China still spends roughly one-sixth on defense what the United States does, and gets much less for its money in terms of actual deployable war-fighting capability. In 2012, China won’t spend much more on its entire military than what the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies will spend on military research and development, which amounts to only 11 percent of its defense budget.

What about Russia, a country that Romney has inexplicably called America’s “number one geopolitical foe”? On Monday, Romney darkly warned that “Russia is rebuilding their military and is now led by a man who believes that the Soviet Union was a great, as opposed to evil, empire.”

On the second part – so what? That Vladimir Putin, a politician, has a particularly rosy view of his country’s past is neither surprising nor relevant. Indeed, one could compare Putin’s historical revisionism with Romney’s refusal to countenance any suggestion that the United States is not an exceptional country. Nonetheless, Russia is simply not a military threat to the United States. Modern Russia is demographically challenged, politically isolated, and a military power only with its nuclear weapons. In addition, Moscow is confronted by a military alliance, in NATO, that contains 28 countries, 3 million troops, and a couple of thousand nuclear-tipped missiles.

Finally, Romney is intent on finding new enemies in places where they barely exist, “Chavez is campaigning for power throughout Latin America,” says Romney. “Mexico is under siege from the cartels and in the Middle East the Arab Spring has become an Arab Winter.”

Latin America is actually a great success story of the last 20 years. A few decades ago, it was a region marked by dictatorship and political dysfunction. Today, it is a bastion of democracy, and conflict in the region is largely non-existent. Chavez might talk a big game in Latin America, but fewer people in the region – let alone his own country – are listening. Parts of Mexico are under siege from cartels, but this amazingly has had little effect on the United States. Violent crime rates – for murder, robbery and kidnappings – in border cities have been steadily falling for years; and if Romney is so concerned about the drug-fueled violence, perhaps he might want to suggest some much-needed reforms of U.S. policies on illicit drug consumption, handgun sales and bulk cash transfers. As for the Arab Spring turning into an Arab Winter, it’s an odd charge only days after Egypt held its first presidential election in the post-Mubarak era.

For Romney, however, what makes all of these “threats” so scary is that the U.S. is “shrink[ing] our military smaller and smaller.” It’s important to note here that even though Romney likes to blame President Obama for $487 billion in scheduled cuts to the defense budget over the next decade, they are the result of a legislative deal cut between the White House and congressional Republicans – a deal that is almost exclusively the result of the House GOP’s debt-limit brinkmanship of last year.

Nonetheless, cutting back the size of the military is precisely what countries do after they exit lengthy and costly wars – and with the 170,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq and the remaining U.S. combat forces leaving Afghanistan over the next 30 months, the justification for maintaining the U.S. military at its current size makes little sense.

Romney wants to, in his words, “commit to preserve America as the strongest military in the world, second to none, with no comparable power anywhere in the world.”

The good news is that the U.S. military will remain second to none for the foreseeable future, regardless of who becomes president. Even after the scheduled marginal defense drawdown, under current Pentagon projections, the United States will retain an Army of 490,000 active-duty soldiers, 18 divisions, 65 brigade combat teams, and 21 combat aviation brigades; a Navy of 285 ships, featuring 11 carrier battle groups, including 10 air wings, 82 guided missile cruisers and destroyers, and 48 nuclear-powered attack submarines; an Air Force consisting of 54 combat-coded fighter squadrons, 453 air-refuelers, 150 bombers; a Marine Corps of 182,000 active-duty Marines; a nuclear triad, with 1,550 operationally deployed nuclear weapons and perhaps an additional 4,000 in reserve. No other country, or coalition of countries, will be capable of deploying and sustaining combat power to the extent that the U.S. can for the foreseeable future.

In the end, Romney’s foreign policy speeches feature two dangerous assumptions about the world. First, he inflates and mischaracterizes the threats that America faces. Second, he projects weakness by having no confidence in America’s ability to meet any such challenges, as it has in the past at great cost and sacrifice. We’re not sure if Romney is confused or afraid; but we do know that he is wrong.

PHOTO: Mitt Romney (L), U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor, applauds a World War II veteran during a memorial day ceremony held at the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center in San Diego, California May 28, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Poroy

Comments
23 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

This is what I’ve been saying all along. There’s no such thing as terrorism or danger in the world. They’ll never be another war or terrorist attack lol republicans just made up those myths

Posted by USAbecomingEU | Report as abusive
 

I agree that the fearmongering and mischaracterizations need to stop.

Posted by M.C.McBride | Report as abusive
 

Don’t worry, be happy. Everything will be alright! – sure. I wish I had the crystal ball of this reporter. Conflicts change over time. You don’t fight the next war with the weapons of the last war. I would point out that wars happen when one side thinks they can win. We face not just land wars and terrorists, we face economic wars and blackmail. Russia now has the strongest currency followed closely by the economic might of China (albeit with many internal weaknesses). With the small conflicts, these big players are jockeying for better economic positions with little or no concern for what happens to the USA. Kicking off a little war in the middle east will drive up the cost of energy and Russia will be happy – China will not. China will seek to assure their supply of energy by supporting Iran’s adventurism. Keeping everything in balance doesn’t happen by accident, and certainly not by saying “don’t worry, be happy”.

Posted by SparkyVA | Report as abusive
 

The real lurking danger and rising threat is Mitt Romney, the puppet in front of the Billionaire Boy’s Club.

Posted by yellowdog1 | Report as abusive
 

A huge military tempts a government to use it on any and all perceived threats. What happens in every corner of the world becomes a direct threat to ‘American interests’. Administrations have been intervening in foreign countries for over one hundred years, with virtually nothing to show for all the lives and treasure expended (think Nicaragua, Viet Nam, Lebanon, Somalia, etc.) Some are now advocating involvement in Syria. The Department of Defense is supposed to be just that, not the Department of Offense. And a smaller military does not mean one that is less capable – its not just about the numbers. As is typical in an election year (which now seems to be a permanent fixture) politicians become apocalyptic about everything. Oddly, the Republicans seem to fixate on contradictions: Shrink government, reduce the debt and grow the military. But then, if it made sense, it wouldn’t be politics.

Posted by steve778936 | Report as abusive
 

And this is why more Americans currently consider themselves independents than at anytime point in the modern political time frame. Absolute disgust with both parties.

Everyone thought Obama was going to follow through with his original, liberal agenda. He has since become very centrist-leaning. Even – dare I say – quite conservative in some aspects.

Romney had to talk a big ‘MERICA! game to get the nomination due to the tea party. Everyone knows he’s a centrist. I mean, he was the gov of the rather liberal MA and created the program that was the predecessor of obamacare.

And then, whoever gets elected will do what they actually think is best. Which will most likely be completely different from what they said they’d do. Welcome to modern politics.

Posted by CapitalismSays | Report as abusive
 

I don’t know if Romney’s views are the result of a basic ignorance and inexperience in international affairs or of a need to feed conservative red meat to the still-dubious GOP base. I fear that it is both. His ideas are not only simplistic and out-dated (e.g., Russia as a major geo-political threat), but feed the fear (started by Bush, Cheney, et al.) that we’re liable to see Al-Qaida, or the Chinese, or the Russians, marching down Pennsylvania Ave. unless we expand out military even more. Consequently, he proposes to spend money on the things we don’t need (large numbers of troops, fleets of bombers), instead of the things we do need (increased non-conventional and low intensity warfare capabilities, research and development, cyber-warfare). But then, Mitt has never been that friendly with the facts and the truth.

Posted by davec.0121 | Report as abusive
 

The modern right is a fear driven movement. The Bush administration pushed it for 8 years, culminating in a war w/ Iraq over WMD it didn’t posess. When Obama’s healthcare iniative was being debated, the conversation wasn’t focused on “can we afford it” or “will it be efficient”, it centered around “death panels”, according to the right.

If not terrorists, then we’re supposed to be afraid of gay people or the fall the persecution of christianity in America. I’n never sure how it is that christianity is is under attack when in most places in the US, you cannot go a day w/o hearing “have a blessed day” and zealots are pulling their kids out of public schools in droves so they can indoctrinate them at home, and apparently this is perfectly legal.

But, people respond to fear. I don’t know if it’s an American thing or if it is a world-wide phenomenon, but people really do seem to like to be afraid of things. The right understands this and often uses it to their advantage.

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive
 

How old are these co-authors? Who at Reuters approved of this pin-headed article? No, I’m not a Romney fan…the authors are naive. The Governor of the Bank of England recently stated…paraphrased: “We potentially face one of the greatest economic calamities in history, including the Great Depression”. I suggest Reuters bring in authors who’ve graduated from college, or at least need to shave…

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive
 

Excellent, excellent article. Thank you.

While I agree with the idea that weapons to wage wars need to constantly be upgraded, as another comment (“you don’t fight the next war with today’s weapons”), the most likely threat in the future will be a cyber attack. Last time I checked, supercomputers and nerds from MIT to run them are a LOT less expensive than new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. IE, it’s not hard to see how we can cut spending and simultaneously keep ourselves ahead of the curve.

I’m a democrat who’s all for a strong military, but what we’ve got is overkill x 1,000,000.

Posted by Adam_S | Report as abusive
 

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the world today is safer than at any point in human history. Wars of all kind, including civil wars, are on the decline; and inter-state war, in particular, is even rarer.
Really??? I’m sure that was the mindset Dec 7 1941 & Sept 11 2000. Not defending Romney but it’s obvious who they are defending in this article and who they are demonizing. And all this is based on their opinion. What will they say when the “facts” change as they can do at a moments notice…

Posted by Crash866 | Report as abusive
 

“I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It’s not.” With these words, delivered at a Memorial Day commemoration last Monday in San Diego, Mitt Romney perpetuated what is perhaps the greatest single myth in American foreign policy – that we live in a world of lurking danger and rising threats. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the world today is safer than at any point in human history.”

——————————–

I strongly disagree. Romney is absolutely right. Due to people like him who have already seized power in this government, our own government has become a “clear and present danger to our survival”. I fail to see how external and internal threats to our safety are any different.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

Romney will start a war with Iran when elected – He will have no choice than to do this because some of the billionaires who gave money to his SuperPac just want that to happen. Those billionaires are just buying a war that will be paid with the blood of several of our servicemen and with the treasure from higher taxes (oops sorry from savings obtained by reducing medicaid to the poor).

Simple math. Romney = war with Iran = Lower Medicaid and Medicare (but at the end they will sell that to you as “protecting our way of life” even if the reduction to the programs that support our way of life will be drastic.

Posted by Peertoperr | Report as abusive
 

This article should be in every bathroom stall, every kitchen table, and on the windshields of EVERY SINGLE U.S. government Republican AND Democrat, period.

Don’t just single out Romney here. Obama and the entire leadership of the U.S. is to blame.

Posted by BardusHabenae | Report as abusive
 

Enough with the Romney bashing. Or any bashing for that matter, does not accomplish anything.

The world is becoming more and more dangerous every year.

Everyone should stop believing what they want to be true and join the reality club.

Censorship is evil.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive
 

It is only in the US that a candidate such as Romney who seems seems completely divorced from reality, can get elected.

Posted by sivmevan | Report as abusive
 

Has anyone else noted that most of Reuters’ commentaries/commentators are liberal? How about a little diversity of opinion? Isn’t Reuters supposed to be a source of business news. Believe it or not, I don’t think most Reuters readers are Socialists.

Posted by mstamper | Report as abusive
 

Nonsense. This article tells me one thing and one thing only: it’s time for another tax cut for the wealthy. Its the patriotic thing to do.

Posted by krimsonpage | Report as abusive
 

@mstamper We only practice socialism for the rich. They get the largess. Hence, we are all socialits now. I’ll bet you are wearing pink.

Posted by krimsonpage | Report as abusive
 

Yes Romney is way too military industrial complex for my likings. He wants to just put boots on the ground anywhere and everywhere without the validity that there is clear and present danger to our Nation. Not the best way to set us up for world leadership admiration. We don’t need to equate so called world power with military power. We are the best Nation in the world due to our progress and development, our people and our pride, our peaceful homeland and our perseverance through adversity. I don’t what his issue is or why he’s so hell bent on massively increasing troops around the world, but I personally have no desire to see World War III. He’s a smart man when it comes to money and economics, but his military spending views are too radical for me

Posted by QuidProQuo | Report as abusive
 

Fear mongering is a key tool of the far right. Karl Rove is the propaganda minister of the Republican Party who’s honed this skill to a high art. Rove is the Joseph Goebbels of the Republicans.

Posted by explorer08 | Report as abusive
 

Casting a “ballot” is not the same thing as holding an election. Nor should an election ever be “advisory”. It must be determinate.

To claim that there are over 100 functioning electorally selected governments on this planet is absurd. Certainly here in the USA, we have no choice of policies, only the choice of an “anchor” spokesman. Without a free choice, a choice other than “more of the same, pretty please”, there is no election. There is only theater.

The powerful do not want to give the weak a choice.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive
 

It is so good to hear that the terrorist has repented of their past behavior and vowed to promote western values, China is building their military for peaceful purposes and Iran has declared its love for Israel.

Do the writers of this blog have any sense of reality?

Posted by common_cents2 | Report as abusive
 

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