How do you prefer your foreign policy?
Mitt Romney likes it to roar: "America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will."
Jon Huntsman, not so much: "Our interests are best served when America leads. But to lead abroad, we must regain strength at home."
The Bloomberg View editors are on board with Huntsman's lean-and-mean strategy: "Although some big-ticket items, like drawing down troop levels in Afghanistan, will have to play out politically, the Pentagon could act quickly to halt production on a number of unnecessary projects. The savings could be spent on programs that will prepare us for our immediate and future challenges."
But the big question, heading into tonight's Bloomberg News-Washington Post debate in New Hampshire, is where Republican primary voters stand. Until now, the smart money had been on herding the party back toward its isolationist past -- the candidates' June 14 debate famously turned into a contest to see who could distance himself or herself most effectively from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya. To some extent, Romney, the presumed front-runner, is turning that wisdom on its head, trying to portray President Barack Obama's Pentagon cuts as an insistence that "there is nothing unique about the United States."
We'll see how Romney's vision of American exceptionalism plays with the crowd, but he might want to consider one fact we do know about his party's voters: They hate the budget deficit. So much so that a Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Republicans disapproved of the deal reached by Congress and Obama to raise the debt ceiling in August. Why does this matter? According to Robert Levinson of our sister operation Bloomberg Government, Romney's call to increase the military by 100,000 service members would cost about $11.25 billion a year. Levinson explains: "A soldier costs about $100,000 per year for pay, housing and health care. The Pentagon’s costs also include contributions for the soldier’s future retirement -- about another $12,500 for each one annually. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs also will face a yearly bill of about $62 million paying them future benefits."
Levinson's BGov colleague Brendan McGarry crunches the numbers on all of Romney's proposed expenditures, which also include increasing the number of Navy ships built annually to 15 from nine and boosting the national missile defense project. He finds they would "add $523 billion to what the Obama administration has proposed for fiscal 2012-2016."
"The mission to restore America begins with getting our fiscal house in order," Romney's web site informs us. "And unless we curb Washington’s appetite for spending, the national debt will grow to the size of our entire economy this year." Perhaps tonight Romney can explain how he plans to reconcile that mission with his new muscular approach to the world.
(Tobin Harshaw is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)