Today, at the American Conservative, Daniel Larison notes that Mitt Romney’s speech to assembled VMI Keydets lazily rehashed the foreign policy platform he introduced back in July. Larison reminds us of a more immediate preface – an op-ed penned for the Wall Street Journal – that was so poorly received even Romney’s most reliable advocates couldn’t find anything nice to say about it. “Platitudinous and bereft of any policy ideas,” the print summary elicited the following snarl from Jennifer Rubin:
If Romney wrote the Journal piece himself, someone should have the nerve to sit him down and say it is unhelpful and weak. If someone else wrote it, he should be benched.
Perhaps Monday’s speech was supposed to clarify Mitt Romney’s “sweeping critique” of President Obama’s foreign policy. However, instead of drawing a line in the sand, Romney appeared to bury his head in it. What followed was a tired pastiche of Wilsonian interventionism that borrowed liberally from the Bush-era.
Of course, the failure of the Bush administration’s foreign policy was accelerated by historic crisis. The invasion of Iraq – at the expense of efforts in Afghanistan – would not have occurred absent the tragedy of September 11th. That shouldn’t excuse it. Ten years later, I’m alarmed by Governor Romney’s willful – at times, giddy – ignorance of lessons we all ought to have learned since then
In his defense, Romney’s been running for president for more than six years. His attentions have obviously been preoccupied. However, the inability or unwillingness to update his foreign policy priorities is a little scary. It also highlights what I’ve written, time and again: beating your chest louder than your opponent doesn’t demonstrate constructive criticism or a coherent policy platform. When it comes to foreign affairs, Romney’s biggest problem is he’s wholly consumed with finding room to the right of President Obama – whose overseas execution during his first term bears stark resemblance to his predecessor’s final four years.
I’d recount the speech’s highlights, but they’ve been ably reported elsewhere. Suffice to say, Romney believes we abandoned gains in Iraq, additional sanctions can deter Iran, it’s time to arm (some?) Syrian rebels, and he’ll march in lockstep with Israel.
(For the record, the only surprise I encountered in the speech was the conspicuous absence of the word “feckless,” which debuted as this election cycle’s nom de guerre in the war against President Obama’s foreign policy.)
Listen, I’ll grant that these are noble aims. I wish we produced a happier outcome for the Iraqi people. A nuclear Iran threatens regional stability. Some Syrian rebels desire liberal democracy. Israelis and Palestinians, alike, deserve peace and prosperity.
But even a cursory appreciation of recent history suggests serious problems with this perspective:
- President Obama didn’t abandon Iraq. He exited our troops from an unpopular and unproductive war via terms established by President Bush and his Iraqi counterpart.
- Sanctions have collapsed the rial, battered the middle-class and refocused Iranian anger from “the regime's long-term incompetence, repression, and corruption [toward] the United States and the West.” The regime’s nuclear ambitions remain undeterred.
- I cannot begin to express the futility of identifying Syrian rebels “who share our values,” let alone the lunacy of arming unknown militants in the wake of tragedy in Libya.
Finally, while Romney’s stated allegiance to Israel is frankly remarkable, I don’t believe he’s being honest. If he takes seriously the “best advice of our military commanders” in affirmation of his solemn duty “not to [his] political prospects, but to the security of the nation,” then he will not padlock the planet’s only super-power to the defense posture of another state – however dear the alliance. Like it or not, we require some “daylight.”
Portending the “feckless” versus “reckless” divide that’s certain to define the candidates’ foreign policy debate, Daniel McCarthy writes the following:
The issue here is not even a reckless foreign policy versus a domestic policy that may give Republicans grounds for hope: a foreign policy like this will not permit much of a domestic policy at all. It will consume a presidency, just as it consumed George W. Bush’s.
Honestly, how does any of this help his candidacy?
If Ross is right, and the American public is simply “waiting for a reasonable indication that Mitt Romney is a plausible, acceptable alternative,” I’m skeptical that the “More War and Bigger Budgets!” shtick is going to win him hearts and minds on the homefront.