The Mitt Romney campaign is about to open up a new front against President Barack Obama on foreign policy; he will ramp up his criticism of the administration's record on democracy promotion and human rights, and begin talking about the "freedom agenda."
The Romney campaign's foreign policy platform, which is often criticized for being light on specifics and concrete policies, has always been centered around the argument that Romney believes in American exceptionalism in a way that Obama doesn't. In his speech this week at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference, Romney said, "I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever. And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century."
When Romney arrives in Poland on Monday -- the third stop of his international trip -- he will expand upon that theme to make the argument that America must lead the global march of freedom and democracy, as the United States has done throughout its history, and in particular during the Cold War, when Poland struggled for freedom and independence from the Soviet Union.
"Barack Obama has broken with a tradition that goes back to Woodrow Wilson about human rights and values animating our foreign policy. This administration has not been an effective voice for human rights," said Romney campaign senior advisor for foreign policy and defense Rich Williamson, who also served as George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, in an exclusive interview on Friday with The Cable.
"Mitt Romney believes in the march of freedom. Like Ronald Reagan, Romney thinks we can't control the pace of freedom, but there should be no doubt where our ultimate goal is and that is for all people to be free," said Williamson. "Barack Obama doesn't get it. He hasn't kept faith with those people who seek freedom for themselves and their children and that has been a disappointment to our heritage, to who were are, and to those brave people who are struggling for freedom and human rights in their countries. He doesn't get that's a responsibility of the leader of the free world."
Williamson said Romney's vision on democracy, human rights, and the freedom agenda is rooted in Ronald Reagan's June 1982 speech at Westminster, when Reagan said, "Democracy is not a fragile flower. Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy."
"When it comes to human rights and values, Obama has a different vision of where America comes from, what has made us great, and what our obligation and responsibility is to the world," Williamson said.
Williamson pointed out that Obama didn't mention the word "democracy" even once in his inaugural address, a stark contrast from Bush's second inaugural address, which stated, "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
More broadly, the Romney campaign is expanding its messaging to highlight what they perceive to be the Obama administration's de-prioritization of human rights as a pillar of U.S. foreign policy and its perceived neglect of struggling democratic and freedom movements around the world, including in places like Iran, Russia, China, and many more.
Even in its first few months, says Williamson, Obama administration officials made several moves that revealed their strategy of deprioritizing human rights, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's downplaying of human rights on her first visit to China in Feb. 2009, and Obama's decision not to speak out vocally in favor of the Green Revolution in Iran that summer.
The Romney campaign also sees the Obama administration as being inconsistent on human rights in its dealings with the Arab Spring, Williamson said. First, Clinton and others made statements defending Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Later, the administration made the case for humanitarian intervention when deciding to attack Libya. Now, the administration is ignoring the plight of Syrians being slaughtered by the government of Bashar al-Assad, he argued.
"Either Obama doesn't understand who were are as a people, or he finds those values to be just ideas that are convenient, clothes that are to be worn when it's fashionable. The fact is those values are there every day and you have to have fidelity to it," Williamson said.
Williamson pointed to the administration's "reset" policy to Russia amid a government crackdown on free speech and democracy; Obama's friendship with Turkey as the government harasses and jails journalists at an alarming rate; and the administration's quick loosening of sanctions in Burma -- all examples of the Obama's focus on reaching out to governments while neglecting the aspirations of suffering peoples.
"Putin's election was determined not to be free and fair and what does Obama do? He calls Putin to congratulate him," he said. "The authoritarian drift of Russia at home does not seem to be an issue for this administration."
Williamson said the administration has also been too conciliatory to the regime of indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, downplayed the genocide in Darfur, and ignored the plight of Tibetans, Uighurs, members of the Falun Gong sect, and other oppressed minorities in China.
The Obama administration often says that it tries hard to balance American interests and values and that it includes human rights in its dealings with all governments, especially those with poor records on treatment of their own citizens. Williamson said Romney agrees that it's a false choice to say American can't be strong on human rights while defending its interests, but Romney thinks Obama is not striking that balance correctly.
"The goal of our foreign policy is first and foremost our national defense and then economic interests. But it should be animated by our values, and every president grapples with that balance." he said. "But President Obama has gone to an extreme of discounting human rights that hasn't been seen during the tenures of Republican or Democratic presidents."
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.