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In Speech, Romney Aims To Set Tone For His Middle East Policy

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivered a major speech on foreign policy on Monday, where he painted President Obama as a weak leader. All Things Considered host Robert Siegel talks about the speech with Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Has Mitt Romney presented new or different ideas about U.S. foreign policy? Well, we're going to ask Susan Glasser, the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine. Welcome back to the program.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thanks so much for having me.

SIEGEL: First, given the conflicting streams of Republican thought on foreign policy from, say, the realism of the first President Bush to the muscular interventionism of the neoconservatives, did the Republican candidate clearly placed himself somewhere on that spectrum today?

GLASSER: Well, you know, I think that's an excellent question because in many ways, we've been waiting for the real Mitt Romney on foreign policy to emerge. And in part, that is because he's been relying on the advice of different schools of Republicans who violently disagree with each other. And I - I'm not sure we've entirely resolved that with today's speech, but I will say it sounded an awful lot more like Condoleezza Rice, and that might not be accident, therefore, like the Bush administration, perhaps of the second term as opposed to the first Bush term. But this was idealistic to a point. It was muscular in its assertion of American power. It was very much about projecting American leadership and force and presence in the world. At the same time, the policy specifics weren't dramatically different from what we're actually seeing with Barack Obama right now.

SIEGEL: The assumption underlying this speech was that the U.S., if properly directed, is capable of shaping world events.

GLASSER: There is, at heart, an assertion across all of Mitt Romney's critiques of Barack Obama in the course of this campaign on foreign policy that comes down to America can be a shaper of events and not merely a passive reactor. He equates shaping events with proving or disproving American decline.

SIEGEL: I want you to talk about what was different in this speech from what Governor Romney has said before. As we heard from Ari Shapiro, he had, when he was being recorded surreptitiously, dismissed the possibility of any progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Now he says there should be a work toward a Palestinian state - peaceful, democratic - alongside a Jewish Israel.

GLASSER: Yeah. That's probably the biggest substantive change from what we've heard Romney say either publicly or privately before. The campaign is aware, clearly, that they've been criticized for not being specific enough. That being said, if you actually look in detail, they've added a few sort of small details to their previous foreign policy positions. For example, they've said we should condition Egyptian aid on policy changes by the Egyptian government that we support. We should have a new czar, if you will, for Middle East aid and one official in the U.S. government responsible. But I didn't see any major shifts, really. Those are much more at the level of small tactical details.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Don't the Egyptians see USA as part of the whole Camp David deal so that if they didn't receive aid from the U.S. that might draw onto that their continued adherence to Camp David?

GLASSER: Well, I think that's one potential consequence. And in general, I'm struck by feeling like I have a sense of what Mitt Romney's opening gambit is on foreign policy rather than what his strategy is. I feel like many of these deficiencies outlined in his speech and in his previous speeches give us a sense of what his opening round might be in a negotiation with a foreign leader. But what happens when they say, well, no thanks? And that's really where I think that, you know, sort of difficult work of diplomacy lies.

SIEGEL: There was talk about our values. And of course, this whole speech was built around General George Marshall, who was a graduate of VMI and who came up with the policy of huge, massive economic aid to the war-torn countries of Europe after the Second World War, the Marshall Plan. How important are people with our shared values when you address the broader Middle East?

GLASSER: Well, I don't think you're going to be signing up too many rebels to your cause if your criterion is specified in terms of people who share our values. That is a loophole that is wide enough to drive a truck through when it comes to whether or not we're actually going to be sending arms and other weapons to the Syrian rebels, for example, which is what Romney outlined in his speech. I'm reminded of that great line about campaigns are all about accentuating very small differences and turning them into very large ones. And I think that's what's going on to a certain extent with Romney's vision of foreign policy and whether and how it differs from Barack Obama's.

Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine. Thank you very much.

Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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