CPAC 2013: Romney Hasn't Learned From Presidential Loss

Mitt Romney took the CPAC stage Friday night as the same principled GOP presidential candidate that lost in November. He weaved stories of inspiration with calls for new party leadership, but failed to present explicit alternatives to party tenets, falling victim to the same fallacies that plagued his 2012 campaign.

The former presidential candidate took the opportunity to juxtapose the threats posed by diminishing military superiority, federal debt, and weak economic growth with a perceived deterioration of American global superiority. Like many in the GOP, Romney would like to think these conflicting priorities can somehow be resolved in a linear fashion. Romney has embraced Keynesian economics, but somehow missed the memo that austerity is not favorable to economic growth, particularly in a recession.

The speech was rife with ambiguous neo-colonialist rhetoric, a reflection of the strategy that has defined Republican presidents over the last three decades. As Romney expressed, hawkish policies have always been motivated by "liberation, not conquest," but history has shown that armed intervention rarely yields the expected results. Even more, the GOP has consistently underestimated the economic externalities resulting from military engagements.

We can also rest peacefully knowing that our president will not reference the dangers posed by violent Islamic extremism by describing them as  "jihadist," an inconsiderate and incorrect term. To imagine that a President Romney would employ such provocative rhetoric is nightmarish. It has already become clear that American defense cannot venture to unilaterally regulate the Middle East. After spending a decade democratizing Iraq, the country’s Shia government has consolidated power and allied with Iran. With Sunni rebels in Syria threatening Iraqi borders, who can blame them?

Meanwhile, Romney compared Russia and China with the so-called jihadists, another unwise comparison that further exposed his naiveté. Whether their human rights records are homologous or not, the Eastern powers’ expansive influence on the world stage is not going anywhere, particularly as their energy and economic demands begin to exceed those of the West. His aggressive foreign policies are not helpful for enhancing the lasting partnerships that are surely here to stay.

Romney was quick to praise former running mate Paul Ryan, who released his most recent budget proposal earlier this week. It anticipates 4.6 trillion in savings, while providing limited potential for long-term deficit reduction. Absent health care and military savings, Ryan’s budget expects the poor and the elderly to pay the price of a deficit driven by a system that has already pushed them to the margins.

The speech even included an inspiring anecdote about a Cambodian-American that rose from Khmer Rouge refugee to United Nations ambassador. As Romney leads the movement against international coherence while drawing barriers to social mobility, the miraculous ascent of Ambassador Siv becomes a dream.

When CPAC adjourns later this weekend, Republican leaders will need to think seriously about pragmatism and sustainability. A constant focus on short-term solutions has left the party stumbling for a formula that will fit the practical realities of a rapidly transforming global infrastructure. As the developing world attains the technological advances that have allowed the United States to achieve its prosperous position as the world’s superpower, meddling in foreign affairs becomes an insurmountable task.

If sustainable and equitable economic systems are not prioritized over immediate security concerns, the U.S. will be left in a scramble to abandon its neo-colonialist image as the world’s new powers wield their soft power on a global stage no longer conducive to multifarious military engagements.