Here's Everything You Need To Know About The Foreign Policy Plans Of Barack Obama And Mitt Romney

obama romney debate

Photo: Getty Images

While the economy and jobs remain the bread-and-butter issues of the 2012 presidential race, tonight’s final debate will focus on topics that remain important to voters deciding on who will be their commander-in-chief for the next four years: Namely, how the candidates see the role of the United States on the global stage. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each has a distinct vision for how the U.S. should pursue its relationships with key enemies and allies in the 21st century. And as the U.S. winds down it’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, both candidates have vastly different plans for the future of the military. 

Here, we go through the candidates’ achievements and plans for the future of U.S. foreign policy and national security. 

The Obama defence Plan

The Obama administration has laid out plans to draw down U.S. military and defence spending, including cutting several defence Department programs that civilian and military leaders have indicated are unnecessary.

These programs include the Medium Air defence System (an attempt to make a better Patriot missile), the Global Hawk Drone (which has been replaced by other, more sophisticated models) and the C-130 Hercules transport plane (as the current fleet is sufficient for the planned shift away from airlifts.)

The White House's future plans for the military include a gradual reduction to pre-2006 levels, scaling back personnel between 1% and 2.5% depending on the branch of service.He is also in the process of cutting the Department of defence workforce by around 10% through attrition.

Here's the administration's latest defence budget plan >

More broadly, the Obama administration's plans for the military involve a significant 'pivot' in focus to the Pacific to emphasise policy goals there. The administration has also given the go-ahead for production of the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carrier, and production of the F-35 new joint strike fighter is to continue on schedule.

Source: NDAA, White House

The Romney defence Plan

Obama on Israel

Obama's record with Israel is somewhat mixed. On one hand, he has a notoriously tense relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a divide that could spell bad news for the future of negotiations in the region.

But Obama has also delivered on several key promises to Israel. Under his administration, the U.S. has strengthened its cooperation with the Israeli military on air defence, including the sale of advanced air defence systems to Israel and collaboration on developing new missile interception technologies.

Under the Obama administration, American contractors have been dispatched to help construct the Iron Dome missile defence system, the Arrow system, and an array of Patriot missiles. Raytheon is also actively building the next-gen David's Sling missile defence system with Israel.

Source: IDF Blog

Romney on Israel

On Iran

Obama has planned to counter the Iranian effort to allegedly produce a nuclear weapon by pressuring the United Nations to implement stricter global sanctions against trading with Iran, the strongest of which were implemented earlier this year.

As it stands, the Iranian economy is now seeing inflation across the board, forcing the regime to engage in a dangerous power play.

Romney does not believe that the Obama administration has gone far enough on Iran, and feels that a much more aggressive stance should be taken against the regime.

Romney's plan states that the U.S. 'should restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously,' give stronger support to political factions that oppose the Iranian regime, increase sanctions more, and put missiles in Poland.

Source: Mitt Romney 2012


In 2009, the President outlined the plan for drawing down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and the plan remains on track to remove all combat troops by 2014.

While Romney initially criticised the strategy, he now backs the 2014 removal date. At the same time, he rejects the existence of a timetable. He wants to 'extract a buy-in' from the Afghan government on the transition.

From the Romney campaign website:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai should understand that our commitment must be met with reciprocal efforts to crack down on corruption in his government, respect free and fair elections as required by the Afghan constitution, and coordinate with the United States on fighting the narcotics trade that fuels the insurgency.

Source: The White House, Mitt Romney 2012


In Pakistan, both candidates see a 'frenemy' that has simultaneously helped the American effort in Afghanistan while at the same time harbored Al Qaeda and other militants.

The White House's order to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has led to increasingly strained relations with Pakistan under the Obama administration. The drone war is a major crux of the U.S. involvement with Pakistan, and remains a major point of contention between the Pakistani government and the Obama administration. For example, Pakistan stopped all U.S. military transit through the country for some time, until the administration was forced to apologise for the deaths of several civilians after drone strikes.

The Romney plan with Pakistan is to compel the leadership to 'buy in' to American goals in the region relating to counter terrorism by severing any possible relationship between Pakistani security forces and terrorist groups. From the Romney campaign website:

Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan's security and intelligence forces must be severed.

Source: Mitt Romney 2012, New America Foundation, White House


For Obama, ending the war in Iraq is one of his administration's key foreign policy accomplishments, and his actions there remain popular among voters. Going forward, Obama plans to continue to support the young Iraqi democracy while still maintaining some distance to allow the state to develop organically.

The blueprint for this is the Strategic Framework Agreement, which lays out the U.S. commitment of military and economic aid that will continue indefinitely.

The Romney campaign would have preferred leaving American troops in Iraq for additional time. Romney is also miffed that Iraq is allowing Iran to use its air space, and plans on taking additional steps --diplomatic, economic, and military -- to push back on 'Iranian influence' in Iraq.

Source: White House, Mitt Romney 2012


China is one of the few foreign policy issues that adeptly translates to an economic discussion, bringing it to centre stage in this election.

Both Obama and Romney have promised to 'get tough' on China. The Obama administration claims to have done this by taking enforcement action against China at the World Trade organisation. Romney claims that these actions have not been strong enough, and promises to label China a currency manipulator and take stronger actions to crack down on illegal Chinese imports.

Both candidates have also promised bring jobs 'back' from China and other foreign countries -- Obama by creating tax incentives for returning companies and disincentives for leaving companies, Romney by lower the corporate tax rate.

On his campaign website, Romney also states that the U.S. and its allies 'must maintain appropriate military capabilities to discourage any aggressive or coercive behaviour by China against its neighbours.'

Source: Mitt Romney 2012


Obama has been pressing his plan for the 'Pacific Pivot' where the United States will move a large portion of the Navy to Pacific bases in the interest of maintaining free trade and security in that region. Of specific interest is North Korea, and the contentious relationship between a number of nations over various sea rights.

The Romney plan does not wildly differ from the Obama plan in the Pacific, but the Republican candidate does want to de-link humanitarian aid to North Korea from nuclear disarmament measures. He also says that he wants to find a way to convince China to allow North Korea to destabilize:

China fears a destabilized North Korea and the implications of its possible collapse for the region along its border. Mitt Romney will work to persuade China to commit to North Korea's disarmament.

Source: White House, Mitt Romney 2012


The White House has tried to improve the relationship of the United States and Russia. The president is pushing to install Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the country, putting it on equal footing with nearly every other country the U.S. trades with.

Dmitriy Medvedev and Obama have met a number of times and are planning a way to reduce nuclear proliferation through START treaties as well. Here's what New START, signed in 2011, does:

Broadly speaking, the new START treaty makes progress in several areas. It cuts -- by about a third -- the nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia will deploy. It significantly reduces missiles and launchers. It puts in place a strong and effective verification regime.

Romney has criticised the Obama 'reset' of relations. He wants to review the START missile reduction treaty, decrease the reliance of European nations on Russian energy, support several of the movements going on in Russia against the current government and also improve relations with other former Soviet bloc states. Romney has also referred to Russia as America's '#1 geopolitical foe,' a comment that has drawn some critique in foreign policy circles.

Source: The White House, Mitt Romney 2012

Libya and Egypt

Until a month ago, the Obama administration's performance in Libya was something the president was unequivocally proud of.

The U.S.-led NATO campaign to halt a major massacre and aid rebels in overthrowing Muammar el-Qaddafi was an all-around success. Then, on September 11, a coordinated terrorist attack assassinated the American ambassador and caused a major geopolitical crisis.

Romney issued an ill-received press release on the evening of September 11 on the attack:

I also believe the Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. It's never too early for the United States Government to condemn attacks on Americans, and to defend our values.

Republicans have continued to criticise the Obama response to the attack.

Source: The White House, Mitt Romney 2012

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