Romney's Iran Policy Woud Cripple the Economy

Romney's Iran Policy Woud Cripple the Economy

Reuters/iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose narrow victory in Ohio late last night allowed him to cling to his frontrunner status in the race for the Republican nomination, used Super Tuesday to issue a broadside against the Obama administration’s Iran policy. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Romney called the president’s approach to stopping the ayatollahs’ nuclear program “feckless” and vowed to teach the Iranians “the meaning of American resolve.”

Forget for a moment that foreign and military policy analysts immediately dismissed Romney’s specific proposals as nothing more than a rehash of Obama’s approach, which combines escalating economic sanctions and a show of military force in the Persian Gulf with demands that Iran return to negotiating table to bring its nuclear program within the International Atomic Energy Agency’s purview. Those efforts bore fruit yesterday when Iran agreed to talks that will include the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

More significantly for long-run U.S. policy, Romney used the Iran crisis to repeat his vow to ramp up military spending should he become president. “My foreign policy will be the same as Ronald Reagan’s: namely, ‘peace through strength’,” he wrote.

Restoring America’s standing in the world depends just as much on restoring budget discipline as it does on carrying a big stick

The centerpiece of his reprise of the Reagan-era build-up would be stepping up the navy’s shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 ships a year. He also promised to press forward with regional ballistic missile defense systems in the Middle East and East Asia.

Romney’s plans bear closer scrutiny from anyone, including those in the military’s top brass, who believes that restoring America’s standing in the world depends just as much on restoring budget discipline as it does on carrying a big stick. His call for an 8 percent increase in inflation-adjusted military spending would require not just cancellation of next year’s sequestration budget cuts, but a roll back of the nearly $500 million in military cuts contained in the Budget Control Act and incorporated into the president’s budget plan.

Romney’s proposal to embark on a second straight decade of escalating military spending would be the first time in American history that war preparation and defense spending had increased as a share of overall economic activity for such an extended period of time. When coupled with the 20 percent cut in taxes he promises, it would require shrinking domestic spending to levels not seen since the Great Depression – before programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid began.

Even without additional tax cuts, bringing the budget into balance by the end of this decade with increased military spending would require chopping another trillion dollars out of domestic side of the ledger. That’s about a 20 percent cut in nominal spending, which in inflation-adjusted terms would require elimination or sharp curtailment of much of the nation’s efforts at cleaning the environment, rebuilding infrastructure, supporting low-income housing and investing in medical and scientific research.

After a decade of unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is this level of domestic austerity, which would likely throw the U.S. economy back into recession, what a war-weary public wants or needs?

Cut, cap and balance is a great slogan for Republican primary voters who want to reverse big government spending and think every program is somebody else’s free lunch, even as they reject any cutbacks to Social Security, Medicare or the home mortgage deduction. But if Romney wants to lead the U.S. down the path to another decade-long military spending spree, he should spell out for the mainstream American electorate exactly where his domestic cuts would be.