Luncheon with Governor Mitt Romney

Luncheon with Governor Mitt Romney

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Moderator: Dan Senor
Board Member, Foreign Policy Initiative and Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations



Governor Romney began by saying that eight months into the Obama presidency, he finds it encouraging that the administration has not withdrawn from Iraq. On the other hand, the overarching foreign policy of the Obama administration is problematically “revolutionary.” Rather than promoting democracy, Obama thinks America should stand back from our allies and become the world’s “super diplomat.” In Honduras, Obama supports Manuel Zelaya and not the democracy movement there. Likewise, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Israel provide examples wherein America is taking a neutral position toward our allies. We are not promoting American values anymore.

Romney argued that maintaining such a position inevitably draws foes closer and creates distance between allies. The friends say, “If we can’t count on America, we’d better start recalculating.” Why is it that Bibi Netanyahu gets on a plane and flies to Russia? Our friends around the world are asking themselves, is it better to be a friend of the United States, or better to be a foe?

Romney attributed Obama’s approach to the view that the administration should manage America’s inevitable decline.  But it is not inevitable, he argued. First, America is not surrounded by major powers. If people see, for example, Russia getting stronger, its neighbors want to balance that and will look to the U.S.  Also, we lead the world in technology innovation.  Finally, the Western philosophy of democracy and free enterprise is much more attractive to the people of the world than autocracy.  

On Afghanistan, Romney said that Obama has an excellent team in place and now he needs to execute the team’s strategy.  Romney also expressed concern that Obama’s recent remarks on the conflict may be attempts to set up a convenient exit.

On missile defense, Romney said he was dumbfounded by the decision to cancel plans to place a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. He also expressed dismay that no concessions from Russia were attached.  He added that the way the decision was communicated to our allies sent the wrong message.  On defense spending more generally, he argued that the Obama proposals would be inadequate to our long term security.


MR. SENOR: Folks, we are going to get started while they are finishing serving desserts. Thanks, Bob. Thank you everyone for being here. We are looking forward to this keynote discussion, a conversation with Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, thank you for being here.

He really doesn't need much of an introduction. Governor Romney had a distinguished career in the private sector and business for many years before running for the U.S. Senate in 1994. He is here today to announce that he is running again for -- I'm joking.


MR. SENOR: There are some press in the background. And then later on became, after running the Olympics in Utah, the winter Olympics, he went on to become governor or Massachusetts and helped really when that economy was in serious trouble in getting it on a path that really in many parts of the country was viewed as a model at the time.

Governor Romney then went on to run for President, which he did not -

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: You may not have noticed.

MR. SENOR: I may not have noticed, right. And today he is working on a book. He is helping candidates around the country who share his view of the world, which we will talk a little bit about today, and is spending some time weighing in on a lot of important national issues, some of which we will get into today.

Governor, I guess I would start the discussion just at a very high level. President Obama is in New York this week. He is addressing the UN General Assembly. We have really had now eight and a half, nine months to look at President Obama as Commander-in-Chief, as the chief architect of U.S. foreign policy, what is your overall assessment? What has he been doing right and what things would you have done differently?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: A long list on the latter. Let me begin though, Dan, just by saying thank you to you and to the folks here at the Foreign Policy Initiative for organizing these events that you are holding and having a chance to talk about foreign policy. Clearly, what is happening at the domestic level is drawing the attention of the American people and a lot of the think tanks and opinion leaders of the nation, members of the media, are focused almost exclusively on what is happening here with good reason. Unemployment is nearly 10 percent, a lot of people having real tough times. There is talk of, if you will, a nationalization effort in health care. And so we are understandably focused on what is happening here, but frankly what is being done by the

United States in the world is having an enormous impact. The headlines around the world about what America is doing are blaring these days. And they may be invisible to us but they are not invisible to the billions of people who live on this planet. And they will have a very significant impact on the future of the United States of America and our kids and our grand kids. So I appreciate the fact that you are calling us together and having this discussion.

I did not know where Barack Obama's foreign policy was leading. I watched the primary, and my thought was he was just going to pull all of our troops out the next day after becoming President, if he were lucky enough to do so, out of Iraq and Afghanistan and that he would take our Air Force One to the capitals of North Korea and Iran and so forth. And then he ran in the general election, and he seemed much more like Bill Clinton in a lot of respects, and I thought, well, I am not quite sure where he will end up. Now, we have seen eight months or so, and I must admit that there is one thing that is encouraging, and a lot of things that are not encouraging.

The one thing that is encouraging is he did not yank all of our troops out of Iraq. We are in a position where we can be successful there and where our commitment, the surge strategy has worked, and the Iraqi people are able to defend themselves. They did not respond with sectarian violence following the attacks as our troops were beginning to be pulled back. There are encouraging signs in Iraq, and so I am glad he did not take precipitous action, which a lot of people feared given what he had said during the primary campaign.

But the over-arching view of his foreign policy is of such a dramatic and revolutionary nature that it gives me real concern. I don't think most people yet have focused on just how revolutionary his foreign policy philosophy is.

Over the last 50 years or so, American foreign policy has been devoted to promoting, defending and securing American values in the world, meaning freedom, free enterprise, democracy, human rights, free trade. These American ideals have been something which we have felt that we are not just a casual bystander to discuss but then instead we promote them, we defend them, we encourage them in every way we know how.

One of the ways that that is done is by showing that we have substantial military might so that other nations recognize that we have -- we may speak softly but we carry a strong stick. And that has been the focus of our foreign policy for a long time.

As I have watched these last eight months, I sense there is a view in the Obama Administration, and from the President himself, that rather than being the promoter of democracy and human rights and free enterprise and free trade, that America should instead stand back a bit from our allies and those that have joined with us historically in that fight, and that we should become more of a neutral arbiter, that we should determine who is right in this conflict, the democracy or the autocrat, and that we should then be a fair judge. That we become sort of the super diplomat of the world.

And the examples are numerous. Honduras comes to mind where you have a government which was backed by Chavez being deemed illegitimate by the supreme court and by the military run out of town, a constitutional government is established, but President Obama is in favor of the former. He is not standing up saying, "We are for democracy. We are for freedom. We are for free enterprise." No, he is supporting the one that he thinks was run out of town unfairly, which was really strange.

You had an election in Iran where people took to the streets. The democratic movement was strong, but we went through an elaborate series of discussions about why it was appropriate for us not to stand in a visible way behind the democracy movement in Iran.

You had an extraordinary kick in the sand to our friends in the Czech Republic and in Poland in the last few days where people who had gone way out on the limb to stand with the United States, to combat potential public disapproval of a missile defense site in the country, nonetheless stood with us, fought to get the support that was needed, and then in a most remarkable way we did not just pull that missile defense back, we did it in a way that was visible, embarrassing, disruptive, that sent a very clear signal to the Russians that we are doing them a favor, and a very clear signal to the Poles that we are not doing them a favor.

As a matter of fact, Lech Walesa, I don't know whether you saw the quote from him over the weekend. He said roughly something like this, he said, "You can count on America to do what is in America's best interest, not what is in Poland's best interest. And Poland is going to have to take care of Poland." Basically, he is saying, "You can't trust America." This is Lech Walesa. So our friends are seeing a very different posture. And consider Israel. Israel, one of our closest friends, saying, "What is the United States doing?"

So America is moving towards a position of neutrality. And actually Hillary Clinton in her speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, if you look at that speech, suggests again this idea that we are not the active defender and proponent of democracy and free enterprise and free trade and human rights, but instead we stand back. Now, neutrality may sound attractive to some people, but it has an inevitable corollary and that is to become more neutral in dealing with the affairs of various nations, you inevitably draw closer to your foes and you establish distance with your friends. And not surprisingly our friends are very troubled right now, and are wondering where America is headed and whether we are going to be the reliable partner we have always been.

Now, there are some consequences of that as well. The friends say if we can't count on America, we better start re-calculating how we are going to make things work. That is why when Lech Walesa says, "Hey, Poland better think about what is right for Poland." That means, okay, stop depending on upon the United States of America. And where else can they depend therefore? They look elsewhere. Why is that that Bibi Netanyahu gets in a plane and flies to Russia? If America were making it very clear we are overwhelmingly, decidedly and forever in your camp, that trip wouldn't not have made a lot of sense. So I think there is a recognition on the part of our friends that America is becoming a little more distant, and there is a recognition on the part of our foes, meaning the autocrats, everyone from Hugo Chavez, who actually thinks a lot better now of the United States and Barack Obama, and Mr. Putin, who is quite pleased with what we decided to do in Eastern Europe. Our foes are happier and our friends are less happy. And the implications of that are obviously enormous because in this great battle of the advocates for world leadership, the one that represents freedom and the values of the West, I won't just call them "American values," the Western values which we share with many nations in Europe and other parts of the world, if that nation decides to become less an advocate, that really has to change the equation that they consider.

And I just say parenthetically, Dan, that clearly there are major strategies at play to lead the world, ours and that of the West is one of them. We represent that it has freedom as one of its elements. It also has free enterprise as one of its strategic elements, and it has grown to lead the world. But there are other strategies.

China represents a very different strategy. Like ours, it is based on free enterprise, free enterprise on steroids in some respects, no holds barred. It is the "wild west enterprise." They have adopted free enterprise because it works, but they of course subscribe to autocratic rule.

And then there is Russia; a lot of us thought Russia was gone, but their energy wealth has allowed them to reinvest in their military and to reassert their might in such a way that they are a contender now to become the leader of the world in the 21st Century. Their strategy is not based on free enterprise, it is based on energy. And of course it is not based on freedom, it is based on autocratic rule.

And then the fourth strategy is represented by the jihadists, who of course have as their strategy, if you will, the collapse of the other three so they become the last man standing, and they release the Caliphate to rule the world.

But there are these four major strategies. Only ours -- only ours includes freedom. And that is why it has been so essential for America over this last half a century to be so strong in the defense of freedom and the promotion of freedom and standing with our friends regardless of the consequences.

I will stop here in a second. I know a lot of people like myself are very, very troubled at the idea that we would even consider having a Justice Department investigation into the CIA's interrogation techniques. These people who got answers that were needed to protect the American people and saved American lives are heroes in my view. They should not be defendants. And that is why you have seven former heads of the CIA saying, "Don't pursue that."

One of the reasons you don't pursue that, by the way, goes back to my original point, which is the interrogations in some cases were held in places where our friends, our closest friends, were convinced by us we need your help. "We need to interrogate certain people, will you help us out? Will you locate these sites in your countries?" And our friends know that if this investigation proceeds, they are going to be exposed. And there are going to be stories in their newspapers, and they are going to suffer political heat. Our friends around the world are asking themselves, "Is it better to be a friend of the United States or a foe?" And that has dramatic implications for the future of freedom, democracy, human rights and free enterprise.

MR. SENOR: This idea that the U.S. is potentially heading to sort of being this neutral observer between democracies and autocracies, what do you think is the motivation behind this policy? It has got to be more than just a campaign to get the world to "like" America again?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: I am sure there is some of that to it. All politicians are in love with love. But I think it flows in part from the sense that is growing in a lot of foreign policy circles, which is that America is in decline, and that it is inevitable that other great nations are going to surpass America and therefore that the job of the President of the United States right now should be to manage America through decline. And to make sure that we are in good stead with the Chinese and the Russians and these other contenders. Obviously, I would love to see, when some people say, "Well, Europe is going to get stronger." I hope Europe gets stronger. I want to see its economy get stronger. I would love to see its military stronger. Another defender of these Western values would be very, very good news, but I actually do not subscribe to the idea that America is in decline or has to be in decline.


GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Obviously, I think it is essential for freedom in the world. If you look at the history of great civilizations of the world, everybody who has been in our position ultimately either collapses or declines over time and is surpassed by a new entity. And I think people look and say, "Well, history is not going for you." And then they look at other features, they see China going like crazy with a large population and effective products coming from places like South Korea and other spots. And they see Russia's energy. And they say,

"Hey, it is inevitable. America is going to have to decline." It is not inevitable. It is not inevitable. You can make it happen. It is easy to decline, but it is not inevitable, and there are some reasons for that.

And I owe this thinking to a lot of folks. I have had conversations with a number of folks in this room, and I appreciate that. But one that has been written about is America's unusual geography. We are not surrounded by other major powers, if you will. We are all sort of by ourselves in that regard. The other contenders for global leadership, namely Russia and China, are surrounded by other nations of significance. And when China gets real strong, the people surrounding China, they want to join up with somebody who will balance China's power and allow them to remain independent and strong, and so they come to us. Likewise in Russia, people who want to remain strong and independent of Russia, if they see Russia getting stronger and more assertive, they come to us. And, as a result, we naturally have this advantage of being able to be in allegiance with other great powers of the world who happen to be next to contenders for world leadership or world domination. That is an advantage we have geographically.

There is another advantage we have, and that is while the Chinese may be able to make a television set at less cost than we can, they cannot invent the television set like we can. We are an inventive, adaptive, creative, dynamic, fast-moving economy. America leads the world in technology and innovation and creativity. It is part -- I don't know what it is, it is part of I think the DNA of our entire society, that we are entrepreneurial, opportunity seeking, technologically oriented, and that will allow us to have the economic might which is necessary to finance the military might which provides that world power.

And, finally, in terms of why it is we do not have to decline, frankly, the Western philosophy of democracy and free enterprise and opportunity is a lot more attractive to the people of the world, to the billions of people in the world than autocracy. The only people who are attracted to the autocratic regimes of Russia and China and the jihadists are other autocrats. Hugo Chavez would much rather sit down with Putin and say, "Now, exactly how did you get this done? I will get notes from you." But the people of the world are not interested in sitting down with Putin and with those that are autocrats. The people of the world are going to be drawn over time naturally to what it is we believe, and those features suggest at least to me that America and the West does not have to be in decline, that if we take the right decisions and make the right actions over the coming years, that America can reassert itself, remain strong, can remain the leader of the world, and can preserve the values and principles that have made the world a far better place to live in for billions of people over these last decades.

MR. SENOR: Drilling down on some specific issues, we have seen public opinion support for -- public approval, public support for a continued presence in Afghanistan. We have seen leading Senators, like Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, saying that troop increase is probably not a prudent path. Speaker Pelosi has raised the prospect of a time line for Afghanistan. And then on Sunday, the President said that he is going to be very skeptical of any request for a troop increase that comes from General McChrystal, and that he is going to take some time to look at it closely, but he is very skeptical. I guess my question is what is wrong with that? Why shouldn't a President take some time to really consider such a consequential decision?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, you would of course hope that a President would be deliberative in developing a policy and a strategy, but he has been President for eight months. And Afghanistan has been around for a while now, eight years, this conflict has been. Hopefully, he is not just now thinking about a strategy for Afghanistan. Hopefully, the President was thinking about it at the time he ran for office and indicated that it would be the centerpiece of his fight against what he calls Al Qaeda, what I call jihadists, taking a broader sweep. He indicated during the campaign, "We were wrong to have been in Iraq. We should get our troops out of Iraq. We should be devoting the resources we need to be successful in Afghanistan. It is the center of the conflict." This is what he has been saying. It has been his strategy. It has been his philosophy, his principles. And the he got in and he said, "There is a team there that I don't have confidence in." So he picked his team. He brought in General McChrystal, who is obviously a brilliant leader in counter-insurgencies, successful in other venues where his strategies have been employed. He picked his team. His team comes together and says, "In the view of your team that has worked hard to develop a strategy consistent with your principles that you gave us, we have now reached this conclusion, and that conclusion is we need additional troops to provide the counter-insurgency success strategy that you have looked for. And if we don't get them immediately, we run not just a risk but a very substantial likelihood that the mission will fail, that what you campaigned on, what you spoke about for these couple of years, and what you have said for the last eight months as President, will fail."

Now, this is not time for Hamlet in the White House. I have no problem, Dan, with the President being deliberative but the time for deliberation hopefully has been invested over the past several months in extensive discussions and negotiations.

There were some, like Warren Buffett, who said, "President Obama, don't get into health care right now. There is too much that is important going on, the economy, Afghanistan, Iraq. Why don't you focus on those things?" He says, "Oh, no, I got plenty of time. I can deal with all those things." Hopefully, he has had the time to deal with the issue of Afghanistan, and he will make the decision which is called for by as great a team of military minds as has ever been assembled for a conflict like this, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Joint Chiefs themselves, with General McChrystal, General Petraeus. This team is unanimous. They have developed a strategy consistent with his principles. How in the world can he at this stage be saying what he is saying?

And you made a comment in your introduction that he just said that he wanted to deliberate. Maybe I read it wrong, but the quote that I saw, I watched him on TV this morning, he said, "If Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan, why, we need to be there, but if Al Qaeda is not there, we don't need to be there." Well, Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. The Taliban and the insurgency are in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is over in Pakistan. And is he just setting this up for saying, "We are looking at this. Al Qaeda is not there and therefore we can get out of Afghanistan." Clearly, the implications of that for re-establishing a base for terrorist activity and for destabilizing Pakistan, Pakistan with how many dozens of nuclear weapons, with a large Taliban population of its own, which intends to destabilize India's Muslim population? This is a very frightful corner of the world, and for the President to be vacillating at a point like this again suggests a very different perspective of foreign policy where this neutral, we are standing back and trying to figure out who we are with.

MR. SENOR: On missile defense, you touched on it briefly, just in summary, what would you or elaborate upon what you think the major implications are of the President's announcement on missile defense earlier last week?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: My guess is that most of the people in this room had the same reaction I did, I was dumbfounded. One, there is the substance of the decision and then there is the message which the decision sends. The substance we can debate at great lengths. My argument is simply this: I saw that new intelligence suggests that the Iranians are not developing or have access to long-range missiles, ballistic missiles, but instead they are medium and short-range therefore defending against medium and short-range makes more sense. I say to myself, "Is our intelligence really that good?" Do we have such good eyesight into Iran that we know precisely what they are developing? And for that matter, what they are buying? There are other places in the world that they might be able to secure a ballistic missile. So to suggest that our intelligence is that clairvoyant is just in my opinion an extraordinary mistake.

And, of course, if we need additional resources devoted to intermediate and short-range missile defense, well, then of course we should devote those resources, but you don't give up on the resources that are required to prevent a long-range attack. The Department of Defense has worked long and hard to secure the sites that would allow us to have a long-range missile defense capacity in Europe, and to have abandoned them in the way that was done just doesn't make, if you will, military sense.

I am hardly a military genius in this regard but as a citizen and observer, it strikes that that was a very strange thing indeed to do. I also do not like the fact that it is violating the first rule of negotiations. Some have suggested, not the Administration, although some have suggested in the media, which probably got the idea from the Administration, or may have, that it is a good idea to do something nice for Russia because then Russia might be willing to come together with us and put a little more pressure on the Iranians, and so we will get something for this. But the first rule of negotiation is never give something up until you get something back. You don't just give up the number one objective of your opponent and then say, "Gee, I hope you will give me something." That is never done.

There are other message elements of what was done that are even more troubling, or at least as troubling as that. The message which is sent to the Czechs and the Poles, the Eastern Europeans, to the former satellite nations of the Soviet Union, to the Europeans and to our friends worldwide is that America is pulling back from its friends.

You think about how this was done. This could have been done in such a way, we wouldn't even have to make an announcement. It could have just been delayed, technical difficulties, "We are implementing the program," you could move some dirt around, you can put some silos in. There are things you can do so that you don't embarrass the Poles to their own people, the Polish leadership with their own people, and you don't send a signal to the world. You can do that that way if you want to, but that was not the intent of this Administration; no forewarning, no preparation, no political preparation or groundwork. No, no, instead, spring it on our friends, announce it for our foes, let them exalt in it, as our foes did, and that says to our foes, "Hey, if you are belligerent and aggressive against the United States of America, this Administration will give you what you want." And that is not the message that freedom fighters and those who advocate for freedom around the world wanted to hear.


MR. SENOR: On the defense budget, which you cited as a key component to back up our protection and advancement of these values, there has been a reforming of defense spending over the last few months, or at least the future budgeting. The Administration argues basically that the exorbitant levels of the -- exorbitantly high levels they argue over the past few years in our defense budgets were unsustainable. And what they are doing is not a dramatic, radical reduction in defense spending, but it is just bringing our defense spending down to more sustainable levels.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Let me stand back then just with the theme I've already begun which is that you have friends around the world, Japan for instance, that look at the United States of America as their partner to balance the power of their neighbor China, and if they see us being inadequate militarily and particularly in our naval capacity, they're going to start rethinking their own calculation of who they have to be friends with and so for the nations that desire freedom in the world to remain true to freedom and to work with us and to be part of our effort, they have to see that we're going to remain strong.

So we have to have a military that is able to project the kind of might that they rely on. We have to have that capacity around the world or wherever people rely upon us. If we don't have that might, then those people who have been our friends and will be drawing towards us will instead turn around and look for other partners. And without question what we're doing with our Navy, we have shrunk our Navy dramatically below the level which has been projected.

What is it? 313 ships necessary to carry out our naval missions. We're now down in the 200s and projected to go lower. Our Air Force equipment is old and inadequate. We backed away from the F-22. The number of troops, we don't have enough troops on the ground, in my opinion. We need at least a 100,000 more troops on the ground so that we, as called upon for various missions, that we have the capacity to respond without having to send in our Reserves and our Guard.

You know, I went through and looked at the missions that we expect from our military and tried to add up what the cost was and I could not come up with a figure less than four percent of GDP. Now last year, our Defense budget was roughly 3.8 percent of GDP. Next year's budget in the Obama Administration takes it down to 3.7 percent of GDP. By 2017, he would take it to three percent of GDP.

I don't see how we can possibly have the military capacity to fulfill the missions which our military has at three percent of GDP nor to provide the confidence to our friends around the world that America is strong. That's necessary to preserve and protect freedom over this century.

Is three percent -- excuse me. Is four percent too large a figure? Well, generally over the last, I don't know, decades, the Federal Government has taken about 20 percent of GDP in taxes and of the U.S. economic activity. About 20 percent.

So I'm saying that four percent, four points out of 20 points should be used for defense. That seems to me to be an appropriate and not excessive level of investment to protect the freedom of ourselves and of our friends around the world.

At the same time, by the way, that we're holding -- that we're bringing the military or that President Obama would bring the military from roughly 3.8 percent down to three percent, he's growing entitlements and mandatory payments to exceed 20 percent. So we're talking about a dramatic change, not only in the tax burden that America would feel but in the priorities, which is we become a nation consumed with caring for ourselves and paying ourselves and redistributions of various kinds and investing less and less in protection and that's, of course, the path that Europe took.

Europe took that path in part because they could rely on us and if we, if we as a nation start going down that path ourselves, it will cause a lot of nations in the world to rethink how they're going to protect themselves.

MR. SENOR: You've spoken over the years about American competitiveness, economic competitiveness, the importance of free trade as you've talked about today. There is a major trade issue in the news now regarding China and our protection of the tire manufacturing industry.

What is your reaction to this controversy and the decision by the Administration?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, I'm glad I could address that in this room because this is a sophisticated audience and my answer cannot be boiled down to a couple of lines.

There is an understandable resistance on the part of almost all people to any change that would provide additional productivity. Now you hear all around America, everyone cheers productivity, but that's because most people don't know what it is. They think productivity just means everyone's working harder and faster and better and therefore we're all doing better.

But productivity really means that more stuff is being created by fewer people. If a nation is highly productive, it means that fewer people are able to make more and more stuff and the nation's wealth is a function of how productive it is, how much stuff is made by its people, and if you want to see wealthier and wealthier people, you want to see more and more productivity or more and more things made by the people of that nation, and a lot of people don't like that idea.

You say, well, sure, everybody does, but simple example. Let's pretend there's a little country with 200 people. This was a long time ago. A hundred people raised the food and a hundred people build the homes. Someone comes up with the idea of making a plow and hitching it to a farm animal and now they only need 50 people to raise the food. Is that a good idea or a bad idea?

To the 50 people who lose their jobs it's a very bad idea and they will resist with great energy and passion the idea of allowing horses to draw plows because it will make their life far more uncertain at best.

Those of us who stand back a bit, say no, no, no, don't you understand that by having the plows and releasing those 50 people that someone, one of them or someone else is going to come up with something else for them to do, making chairs, making movies, whatever, that's going to make everybody better off.

More productivity will make everybody wealthier and more successful and that is something which is lost on a lot of people in this country. The tire workers of America look at these tires coming in from China and say this is not good for me and I understand that and they and the corporations -- it's not just the unions, by the way. It's the corporate executives and the shareholders and all the wealth owners, capitalists behind the tire industry are saying don't let those foreign tires in here, it's going to hurt me, and it will. As those tires come in, it will hurt them directly, and therefore what their response is, immediate response, is don't let them in, and if that's the response, my experience has been this:

Over time, they will lose out slowly but surely the protections. As they protect their lack of productivity with barriers, they will become less and less competitive. The foreign guys will get more and more volume, more and more successful. They'll become more and more productive. The domestic guys get less and less productive, less and less competitive until, finally, even the tariff can't hold them out and the tariff -- the foreign products come flooding into the marketplace and the domestic guys are gone.

So putting barriers up, trying to put walls up, in my opinion, is a defeating strategy and will yield ultimate decline and collapse.


GOVERNOR ROMNEY: The alternative strategy, by the way, as you know, the alternative strategy is to say, okay, those guys have figured out how to make tires in a more productive way than we have and we're going to have to find out a way to compete. We're going to have to find a way to use our ingenuity and our investments, new capital. We're going to have to find a way to compete or we're going to be gone and so we're going to do -- we're going to either close the doors today or we're going to compete head-on and that's -- by the way, the same thing is true in the automobile industry.

You know, we watch our market share go down, go down, go down, go down because we are not productively competitive with foreign manufacturers and with transplants that are here. If we invest in productivity here, we can be globally competitive.

So long story short, the wrong answer for America's workers and for the wealth of every citizen of this nation is to try and put up barriers to stop competition, either domestic competition or competition from abroad. The right answer is always to see competition as an opportunity and a necessity for invention, innovation, technology, and becoming more productive. If we do that, we'll be a wealthier nation and we will be able to remain the powerful nation we must remain to have a strong and powerful military which we must have to protect freedom.

MR. SENOR: I'm going to open it up for a couple questions here before the Governor has to go.

Jennifer, go ahead. And please say your name, identify yourself, your organization.

QUESTION: Thank you, Governor. I'm Jennifer Rubin from Commentary Magazine.

You spoke in passing a couple times about Israel and American-Israeli relations. There's probably no area of American foreign policy that we have reset as dramatically as we have with respect to American-Israeli relations.

Can you talk a little bit about what you perceive the Administration has done with its good idea or bad idea and what you think they have in mind?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, if I were in the Israeli Government right now, if I were Bibi Netanyahu, of course I would be very, very concerned about the conflict in philosophy and in military might with the Palestinians and I'd be concerned about Hezbollah, but my primary concern would be what's happened with Iran and is Iran moving towards nuclearization and at what rate and when would Iran become a nuclear nation.

And therefore, if I were Bibi Netanyahu, what I'd want to know is, what is America going to do? There was an article, I think in the Wall Street Journal, a couple of weeks ago entitled "How the Obama Administration is Pushing Israel to Attack Iran."

MR. SENOR: Brett Stephens' piece.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Brad Stephens' piece?

MR. SENOR: Brett, yeah, Brett.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Brett Stephens? Sorry, Brett. And there's a great deal of truth to that.

When you have the Obama Administration doing what it's doing on missile defense, you know, as far away as Honduras, in Colombia, we're not standing with Colombia, in Iran with the election there. The Israelis have to be saying, gosh, America is not standing with its allies and its friends like it needs to. We can't count on America, and I think this President is sending a very clear signal to the Iranians and to the world that we are not prepared to leave a military option on the table, and I don't think that the Iranians are going to be very interested in volunteering their nuclear plans unless they fear that there is some severe consequence of not doing so.

In my opinion, the President should move for crippling sanctions on Iran, economic sanctions on Iran, that he should move with our friends surrounding Iran to say you guys need to put real pressure on Iran instead of going back channel to Iran to try and work things out because you see Iran is an emerging super power in your region. You guys need to put pressure on the Palestinians to stop bugging the Israelis right now as they try to deal with this issue.

You would see in this Administration a get tough attitude with some of our other friends who have been reluctant to provide support for stiff and brutal sanctions and you'd still be talking about military options. You would not say that that is -- you would not communicate in a way that that is off the table.

I think we have to communicate to people in Iran that -- when the President said it is unacceptable for Iran to become nuclear, does he mean that or does he just mean that, you know, he really doesn't want them to? And at this stage he's not communicating that it really is unacceptable.

Unacceptable means you're actually developing various military plans that you might have to carry out and that you're working day and night to put pressure on our friends to put the pressure on Iran that needs to be put in terms of sanctions and other types of pressure to get Iran to change course.

I mean, you know, Iran now has -- we now have a window into Iran we didn't have before the Internet that we can communicate with the Iranian people. I don't know if you did a poll in Iran and said do you want to become nuclear, what the results would be, but my impression is from those I've spoken with that it's very popular, that it's a very nationalistic kind of enthusiastic thing to become nuclear.

I think we need to communicate that becoming a nuclear nation to the people of Iran, becoming a nuclear nation is a very dangerous thing to do because if at any time fissile material developed by your nation ever falls in the hands of someone else who uses it, that the United States of America will respond not just to the entity that used it but to the nation that supplied it, and that therefore becoming a nuclear nation, if there is ever a nuclear event anywhere in the world, puts you as the Iranian people in a circle of suspects you don't want to be in.

These kinds of messages, instead of, you know, cozying up to those that are foes, we should make very, very clear that this is critical to us and we shouldn't be giving things away, unless we're getting something and the key thing to get is to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear nation.

MR. SENOR: Yes, go ahead, right there.

QUESTION: Governor Romney, thanks for coming. I'm Mike Clowser. I'm congressional staff.

You just mentioned Iran. Readers of FPI's overnight brief know now more than ever that it is Iran's ambition to be a nuclear nation.

Should it be the U.S.'s stated clear policy that if Iran tests a nuclear bomb, we take military action against them immediately?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: You know, I don't know that we state specifically when and where we would use -- we would take military action. I don't think you want to signal to somebody precisely the event or the act that will cause us to respond because it allows them to prepare their defenses or to hide what they're going to do in a way that puts you in a box, but I think you have to say that -- if you're the President of the United States and you say, as this one has, it's unacceptable to the United States of America for Iran to become nuclear, then you have to indicate that there is something behind that and that has not been forthcoming from this Administration.

And I don't think that military options should be taken off the table. I'm not saying under exactly which circumstances I would employ it, but I can tell you that it needs to be on the table and the Iranians need to understand it's on the table, and they also have to feel pain for pursuing a nuclear pathway and the people of Iran also have to recognize that there's danger in becoming a nuclear nation and the neighborhood around Iran also has to recognize that it is very much not in their interests to support Iran or to get close to Iran when it's pursuing this pathway.

MR. SENOR: Go ahead. Yes, right there.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Elise Stefanik, and I am representing American Maggie, which is a new Republican women's online magazine.

My question for you, and it's more on the communication side, this summer the debate in the public has been primarily based around tea parties, health policy. How do we raise the profile on these concerning national security issues related to foreign policy because everyone in this room understands the gravity of some of these decisions, but how do we translate that to the public to raise the profile because I think this would concern the majority of American citizens?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Yeah. It's going to take a little while. I'm not telling you something you don't know, but when you don't have the White House, you don't have the bully pulpit. You can't set the agenda for the media, for the American public, as you do when you have the White House.

Instead, you have a lot of people all expressing their views, you know, a bunch of congressmen, senators, governors, former governors, expressing their views, and those things have a hard time breaking through, but ultimately, in my view, if we as a group of spokespeople have a very similar message and are hammering and hammering, it does break through. It takes awhile.

For instance, on healthcare, you know, most of the nation sort of ho-hummed about President Obama's healthcare plan as he was a candidate and then even in his early months it was not a big deal, but it took awhile and then we began to recognize this is a dramatic departure from the free enterprise system that's made America what it is today and it's the wrong way to go.

You know, I happen to believe that foreign policy is going to become a very significant issue in time for the 2010 elections. I happen to think that the President is signaling by the shows he did on Sunday that Afghanistan is about to become an issue and it's going to become at least as visible as what happened on missile defense, and there's going to be attention once again played to foreign policy.

The President is about to address the United Nations. We'll see what he says. Of course, one of the challenges is on anything important, you have to find a way to communicate it in a brief and powerful and pungent way and we haven't crystallized that yet with regards to foreign policy issues.

I do think that the President is communicating that he is a reluctant and timid defender of freedom and that is going to break through. People are going to see that and the examples -- I mean, it's just item after item after item, from whether it's Latin America with Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, whether it's Europe with Russia, with the Czech Republic, Poland, whether it's the Middle East with Israel and Iran, whether it's Asia, in all of these venues you're seeing a President who is stepping back from our friends and drawing closer to our foes and that is something which is not going to go unnoticed ultimately and cannot go unnoticed.

The only time I remember something like this happening was during the Jimmy Carter years and we remember what happened then and I think America is -- I do not think America for a minute will stand still for the idea that America is in decline.

I know that the chattering class has all accommodated that idea and nods their heads knowingly. I think the American people say no bleeping way. America is the greatest nation on earth and we're not going to decline.


MR. SENOR: On that note, Governor, I know you have a tight schedule.

Thank you for being here. You know, Russian President Medvedev has said that when President Obama came to Moscow, the Administration requested to meet with Russian dissidents. Medvedev said the other day he's coming here for the UN General Assembly. While he's here, he'd like to meet with American dissidents.


MR. SENOR: So I think we've found our guy.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: He'll be here, he'll be here.


MR. SENOR: He should meet with Mitt Romney, --

(Laughter and applause.)

MR. SENOR: -- an American dissident. Thank you for being here.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Okay. Thanks, Dan. Thank you.


Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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