Romney’s Foreign Policy Debut


The speech could have been written by wingnut bloggers. The aggressive chest-thumping, the contempt for the president, and the lack of any actual engagement with a complicated, dangerous world where specific and hard choices have to be made: all made this seem like a campaign rally for Christianists and neocons, rather than a guide to the future.

Does Romney really believe, for example, that strong, public rhetorical support from the White House would have helped the Green Movement rather than, as the Greens insisted, hurt them? Does he seriously want to increase defense spending massively, while cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting the debt? Would he intervene in Syria? Would he have extended our stay in Iraq; and does he want to stay in Afghanistan after 2104? I have no idea from this speech. All I know is that everything Obama has done has been a failure; that he deserves an “F” in foreign policy; and that Russia is our global foe and Iran our darkest threat. But one also senses, as Drezner does, that most of it is cynical domestic base politics:

After the speech, Chuck Todd tweeted that “The Romney VFW speech felt like it was aimed at GOP voters, not swing voters.” I’d agree. Foreign policy doesn’t matter that much to swing voters, but rhetoric like this is a great way to appeal to and energize the base.

It worked! Here’s Hugh Hewitt:

This was Mitt Romney’s strongest speech of the campaign, and a huge hit with listeners when I replayed it in the first hour of the show.  

Elliott Abrams and John Hinderaker likewise wax tumescent. Bernstein modifies Drezner’s argument:

Voters probably don’t care about foreign policy — but they may care about the possibility that the person they’re electing is totally incapable of dealing with those issues.

Kornacki finds as little of substance in the speech as I did:

The purpose of these attacks has little to do with winning a debate over foreign policy and more to do with advancing Romney’s (perhaps only) message: that Obama is a failure.

Kilgore is in the same ballpark:

Aside from the usual sniping at the usual distortions of Obama’s alleged apologies and prevarications, Romney mainly seemed determined to convey attitude: resolve, clairity, toughness, strength, strength, strength! It was more than a bit annoying to hear him denounce the pending defense spending sequestration as “Obama’s defense cuts,” insofar as the sequestration was originally hatched by congressional Republicans. 

Yes, all one can do about a blatant Romney lie at this point is get “annoyed.” After a while, outrage at constant, wanton misrepresentation is too exhausting. David Shorr’s assessment:

It’s not that today’s speech lacked any reference to particular policy matters. It’s just that whenever Romney did get down to cases, he either baldly lies about President Obama’s policies (as Heather helpfully lays out) or fudges (how, exactly, is Romney’s 2014 Afghanistan timeline different from Obama’s) or claims he can achieve outcomes without saying how (Iran’s uranium enrichment).

Ackerman sees the speech as evidence that Romney “agrees with Obama on Afghanistan, Egypt and maybe Iran.” Iran? Yes, Iran:

Romney thinks Iran is “the most severe security threat facing America and our friends.” How he’ll deal with it can be hard to pin down. He didn’t reiterate his November call for new sanctions to halt its nuclear research. “At every turn,” Romney said, “Iran must know that the United States and our allies stand as one in these critical objectives.” That’s what Obama says, too, to justify the multinational sanctions his administration placed on Iran. But it’s no secret that Obama and Israel are out of step, and that’s probably what Romney meant: he’s about to start a foreign trip that’ll take him to Israel. Still: Romney didn’t deride the effect of sanctions. He didn’t pledge more cyberattacks. He didn’t offer any (bigger) naval buildup around Iran. He called for a “full suspension of any [uranium] enrichment,” possibly as a precondition for talks with Iran — it’s a bit unclear from the text of his speech — which his surrogate Dan Senor called “the only basis of any deal.”

But that’s simply turning the US into an extension of Israel’s agenda. And since no enrichment of any type is understandably a non-starter in Tehran, it’s effectively a casus belli.

You want a reprise of Bush-Cheney in foreign policy, but with more direct management by Netanyahu? You know what to do.

(Photo: A veteran looks on as Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during the 113th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on July 24, 2012 in Reno, Nevada. By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)