Romney’s Defensive Offensive

July 9, 2012

The politics of national security are heating up again, as Mitt Romney is reportedly considering a trip to London, Israel and other overseas destinations, and a new offensive on foreign policy and national security affairs. As commentators from across the political spectrum have noted, up to now Romney has defined himself in opposition to the Obama administration without setting forth a coherent worldview. As Slate foreign affairs columnist Fred Kaplan explains, “Romney does not explain what he would have done differently in Obama’s place.”

Four years ago, Romney criticized then-candidate Obama for travelling to Europe instead of focusing on issues at home. Today, the American public and security experts are surprisingly united around a pragmatic set of national security policies – and supportive of the Obama administration’s results-oriented mindset.  Where Romney has taken clear positions, they have tended to be outside this bipartisan consensus and in line with the extreme views of his adviser John Bolton. Americans will be interested to hear what Romney tells the world about his specific vision of America’s role.

President Obama continues to gain political support for foreign policy accomplishments. A new political analysis from the centrist organization Third Way finds that, “Polls continue to demonstrate strong support for President Obama across a wide range of national security issues. International Affairs: President Obama bests Mitt Romney on who is trusted to do a better job handling international affairs by roughly 20 points (RV[registered voters]: 56% to 37%; IND: 52-30%). Terrorism: By a 2:1 margin, Americans believe the President’s handling of terrorism is a major reason to support his reelection. With RVs, Obama leads Romney 47-40% on who is trusted to do a better job handling terrorism, but INDs prefer Romney 43-40%. Drones: The President’s aggressive use of drones is overwhelmingly popular. A February survey found that 83% approve of his drone policy, including 77% of liberal Democrats. Afghanistan: A poll in late May found that 78% support Obama’s drawdown plan for Afghanistan.”

In the Washington Post, Jamelle Bouie adds: “The problem for Romney is that after eight years of a disastrous, Republican-led foreign policy, voters may be more confident in the Democratic Party’s ability to manage the country’s international affairs. When asked about Obama’s handling of foreign policy, majorities of Americans approve of the president’s performance.”  [Third Way, 6/12. Washington Post, 7/6/12]

This success is because of a results-oriented approach to foreign policy. In Foreign Affairs,  Martin Indyk, Kenneth Lieberthal, and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution review the Obama administration’s performance on foreign policy. They outline the administration’s accomplishments, writing: “[Obama] has racked up some notable successes, including significantly weakening al Qaeda, effectively managing relations with China, rebuilding the United States’ international reputation, resetting the relationship with Russia and ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), achieving a UN Security Council resolution imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, completing overdue but welcome free-trade accords, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.” The authors continue, “The Obama approach has been relatively nonideological in practice but informed by a realistic overarching sense of the United States’ role in the world in the twenty-first century. The tone has been neither that of American triumphalism and exceptionalism nor one of American decline. On balance, this approach has been effective, conveying a degree of openness to the views of other leaders and the interests of other nations while still projecting confidence and leadership.” [Martin Indyk, Kenneth Lieberthal, and Michael O'Hanlon, May/June 2012]

Still looking for policy vision, specifics from Romney. Slate Columnist Fred Kaplan writes in a recent column, “in this election in particular, Mitt Romney’s statements on foreign policy range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous. Does Romney believe the things that he’s said about arms control, Russia, the Middle East, the defense budget, and the rest? Who can say? He has no experience on any of these issues. But his advisers do; they represent, mainly, the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party (some, notably John Bolton, veer well to the right of even that). While not all presidents wind up following their advisers, Romney has placed his byline atop some of his coterie’s most egregious arguments—not least, several op-ed pieces against President Obama’s New START with Russia, pieces that rank as the most ignorant I’ve read in nearly 40 years of following the nuclear debate… Romney doesn’t seem to understand—nor do some of his advisers—the extent to which the world has changed since the end of the Cold War.” As one unnamed GOP foreign policy expert told Politico, “we have yet to see him [Romney] present his vision for America’s role in the world more broadly (except in really generic talking points)…  The country needs and expect a coherent critique from Romney of Obama’s foreign policy and a layout of his vision for the future as well.” [Fred Kaplan, 6/29/12. Politico, 7/8/12]

What We’re Reading

Ballots are being counted after a historic election in Libya, with the liberal coalition apparently defeating Islamist rivals.

The Egyptian parliament could risk a showdown with the military and defy Egypt’s Supreme Court to reconvene.

Moscow announced that it would halt its weapons sales to Syrian authorities until the situation there calms down.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s party approved a plan to end the Israeli Defense Force’s exemption from conscription for Orthodox Jews and Arab Israelis.

Russia’s emergencies minister accused local officials of not doing enough to prevent 171 deaths in weekend floods that raised new doubts about preparedness under President Vladimir Putin.

International donors in Tokyo pledged 16 billion dollars in development aid to Afghanistan.

The top United States military commander in South Korea apologized for an incident in which three South Korean civilians were handcuffed.

South Sudan marks one year since its independence amid border tensions and economic woes.

The Washington Post reports on the unexplained deaths of three U.S. special forces soldiers in Mali earlier this year.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel pushed for stronger ties between France and Germany in order to help strengthen the Euro.

The first week of negotiations on an international arms trade treaty concluded, with the U.S. declaring it will not allow any restrictions on Americans’ gun rights.


Commentary of the Day

The Washington Post editorial board argues the United States and Russia should seek to ease off the Cold War alert status for warheads and strategic forces.

Mark Hibbs assesses UN trade sanctions on North Korea.

George Grant analyzes the various Libyan political entities and what they stand for.

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