Does Mitt Romney Understand The World?

February 02, 2012 3:21 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney likes to talk a good game on foreign policy. He says that when he's president, America will once again be the greatest country in world, implying that we've fallen behind because of the policies of the Obama administration. After winning the Florida primary earlier in the week, he again repeated the "Pants on Fire" claim that "President Obama has adopted a policy of appeasement and apology."

Beyond the necessity of appeasing the base by attacking the incumbent president, Romney hasn't shown any meaningful knowledge of world affairs, much less demonstrated that he understands that the world around him is changing in dramatic ways and that as president, he'd have much less power to dictate how the world should be run.

In a piece in the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria highlights some of things candidate Romney should learn (or come to accept) in the weeks and months ahead if he actually wants to be taken seriously on foreign policy.

Twenty years ago Turkey was a fragile democracy, dominated by its army, that had a weak economy constantly in need of Western bailouts. Today, Turkey has a trillion-dollar economy that grew 6.6 percent last year. Since April 2009, Turkey has created 3.4 million jobs - more than the European Union, Russia and South Africa put together. That might explain Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's confidence and his country's energetic foreign policy.

Look in this hemisphere: In 1990, Brazil was emerging from decades of dictatorship and was wracked by inflation rates that reached 3,000 percent. Its president was impeached in 1992. Today, the country is a stable democracy, steadily growing with foreign-exchange reserves of $350 billion. Its foreign policy has become extremely active. President Dilma Rousseff is in Cuba this week, "marking Brazil's highest-profile bid to transform its growing economic might into diplomatic leadership in Latin America," the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Brazil's state development bank is financing a $680 million rehabilitation of Cuba's port at Mariel.

For three decades, India was unable to get any Western country to accept its status as a nuclear power. But as its economy boomed and Asia became the new cockpit of global affairs, the mood shifted. Over the past five years the United States, France, Britain and others have made a massive exception for New Delhi's nuclear program and have assiduously courted India as a new ally. I could go on.

These three emerging powers are seeking a greater role in the international system. Turkey and Brazil, in particular, are charting independent foreign policies that might be in the best interest of their respective nations, but not always in line with Washington's objectives. India, too, which has strengthened military ties with the U.S., is sometimes unwilling to go along with U.S. policy. The country recently announced, for example, that it would continue to buy oil from Iran.

So far on the campaign trail, Romney has had little to say about Turkey, Brazil, or India. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) foolishly said during a debate that Turkey was governed by "Islamic terrorists," Romney remained silent. He should have come to the defense of an important NATO ally, one that accepted a missile defense system on its soil and has sought to play a constructive role in the Arab Spring.

Romney doesn't display the sort of nuanced understanding of foreign affairs that is critical to determining effective policy in the 21st century. In his worldview, you always agree with and work with your allies and constantly seek to isolate and undermine your foe and adversaries. But allies, especially critical allies, don't always behave the way you want them to. And sometimes, you need to work with foes and adversaries to achieve your larger goals. For instance, Romney, a vocal critic of the New START Treaty, might not comprehend that the administration's so-called reset with Russia is critical to isolating Iran. Romney has promised to "reset President Obama's 'Reset' with Russia," meaning a reversal to the Bush administration's failed efforts at ignoring Russia and hoping that its power would magically go away.

Romney just can't be taken seriously on foreign policy until he acknowledges that Latin America is more than Chavez and Castro, that the Middle East is more than Israel and Iran, and that as much as he might worry about Russia and the rise of China, the two Security Council countries are critical to doing anything meaningful on the world stage. On his campaign site, he pledges to "deny Russia any control or veto over the system." Come on; that's ridiculous.

Mitt Romney will tell his base what they want to hear. But it's clear that the Republican frontrunner is nowhere close to understanding how challenging it is to make policy in an ever-evolving world arena. Hackneyed rhetoric might sell on the campaign trail, but it certainly won't at the United Nations or Geneva.