The most boring whopper in Mitt Romney's big foreign policy speech

Plenty of folks have already pored over Republican nominee Mitt Romney's major address on foreign policy today, pointing out their disagreement and factual gripes, but here's one you probably won't hear too much about: his suggestion that he'd have better luck than his predecessors in persuading European countries to cough up more dough for their militaries.

Here's what Romney said:

I will call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark. 

If you believe that, then I have a bridge in Bruges to sell you!

Of course, Romney's got a point here -- the Kantian Europeans have been free-riding on American military strength for decades. But the problem is getting urgent now, with contractors now warning that critical supply chains are at risk of collapse.

And as then Defense Secretary Bob Gates all but screamed from the rooftops in a much-discussed 2011 speech, the Libyan war exposed just how little European countries are able to contribute to the common defense these days. As Gates put it, “Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t .... The military capabilities simply aren’t there." 

Ouch! But seriously: Does anyone think Romney can pull this off? American presidents have been begging Europe to bolster its defenses for years, going back to Dwight Eisenhower, whose secretary of state threatened in 1953 to carry out an "agonizing reappraisal" of U.S. commitments if the Europeans didn't get their acts together.

In the middle of a never-ending economic crisis -- at a time when the likes of Britain, Greece, Italy, and Spain are implementing what you might call European-style austerity programs -- is Europe really going to cough up a few more percentage points of GDP on Mitt's say so?

Perhaps the best we can hope for in the short term is that European countries get smarter about collaborating and promoting "selective excellence" as each country specializes in what it does best. But until Europeans' economic situation turns around -- and their perception of threats changes -- no amount of American hectoring is going to make an impact.

Sorry, Mitt.


The return of Kony 2012

Invisible Children, the group that unleashed the social-media tsunami known as Kony 2012 last March, released a new video today, titled "Move"  that will provide plenty of material for both its supporters and all the haters. 

There's some evidence that the group has listened to criticisms of the original. Perhaps responding to attacks like Teju Cole's "White Savior Industrial Complex," the new video highlights the role of IC's Ugandan team members -- particularly Uganda country director Okot Jolly Andruvile, who is now described as the "true founder" of the group. The sequel also makes it clear that Kony is not actually in Uganda anymore, a fact, as Michael Wilkerson pointed out on the day it was released, the original left out. There's also an extended metaphor involving a slinky and plenty of the trademark shots of American kids running with banners that have so irritated critics of its previous videos.

The oddest thing about the video may be how much time it devotes to the circumstances leading up to co-founder Jason Russell's naked public meltdown in San Diego last year, including reality show-style behind-the-scenes footage of Invisible Children leadership meetings following the release of Kony 2012, during which Russell appears on the verge of tears over the criticism the group has received. According to the film's telling, it was the stress from the dozens of interviews Russell did as well as the unexpected negative feedback he received from some quarters that drove Russell over the edge.

I don't mean to be insensitive to whatever personal mental health issues Russell was facing and wouldn't bring this up if the group hadn't made it a centerpiece of the video, but it seems a bit unseemly for an organization dealing with child victims of mutilation and sexual assault to devote so much of its pitch to self-pity over some nasty blog posts. 

(I also might quibble with the video's argument that none of the critics of the video were people in the region effected. See this interview with Betty Bigombe, who personally negotiated with Kony during the 1990s and 2000s, or the efforts of groups like Uganda 2012.) 

All the  navel gazing is especially odd since, as IC notes near the end of the video, it can legitimately claim to have shifted the debate on this issue. Kony has been the subject of congressional hearings and the African Union has begun a new push to capture the warlord.  The video ends with a call for a rally in Washington on Nov. 17 to call for a global summit on stopping the LRA. (I might suggest that they also take the opportunity to question the Obama administration's habit of waiving sanctions on countries that employ child soldiers, but I suppose that would dilute the message.)

I have no doubt the rally will be well attended. Invisible Children has found a found a formula that works for generating support and attention. And while some of us might wish the group would turn its formidable operation on more immediately pressing crises, stopping Kony is certainly a worthy goal. But I think we can all agree we've heard enough about Jason Russell at this point.

For more of our earlier Kony 2012 coverage: See Michael Wilkerson's original post -- one of the first critical takes on the video -- and his later piece summing up the impact of the campaign. There was also David Rieff's full-throated denunciation and this nuanced take from Norbert Mao, who is featured in the new video.