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July 24, 2012

Romney's Major Platitudes Address to the VFW
Posted by David Shorr

My main reaction to Governor Romney's VFW speech is to wonder whether he really thinks foreign policy is that easy. Obviously the purpose of the speech was to preview how Romney would deal with international challenges if he is elected in November. Yet the speech bore no resemblance to a workable foreign policy approach. Having gone nine months since Romney's last major address, this was how the Romney camp thought they'd earn points for gravitas and policy seriousness?

The tone was set in the speech's first major section, between the introduction and the discussion of the defense budget, which for seven windy paragraphs does nothing but string together a series of platitudes. "Watchman in the night ... strength or vision to lead..." Hard to take issue with any of the sentiments themselves, but the way Romney presents them raises two problems. First, Romney's claim of a political split over such fundamentals of patriotism. Second, they are too over-broad to serve as a useful guide for policy -- which, again, is supposed to be the purpose of a major policy address.

Romney's attempt to distinguish himself as the only candidate who really believes in America's strength and ideals merely echoes an ongoing theme. Just the other day, Romney said "The course we’re on right now is foreign to us. It changes America.” (Pretty subtle, eh.) You'd think that in 2012 we could stipulate patriotism and debate substance, but then again, Chris Matthews warned about this very thing in those MSNBC commercials

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).

Actually the speech included one especially revealing section where Romney discloses the essence of his foreign policy approach. A clear premise for how he plans to attain America's international aims, just not a workable one:  

It is a mistake – and sometimes a tragic one – to think that firmness in American foreign policy can bring only tension or conflict. The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision. In the end, it is resolve that moves events in our direction, and strength that keeps the peace.

I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might. 

The magical thinking that characterizes this belief in resolve is kind of a thing with me. Borrowing a page from Paul Krugman, I even tried to coin the idea of a "Resolve Fairy." In the military they often say that "the enemy gets a vote," and that captures the essence of this right wing blind spot. The real tragic mistake is to delude yourself that the targets of your firmness and resolve will comply with your wishes. 

If all this talk of resolve sounds familiar, that's because it is. If our Republican friends don't want us to harp about the George W. Bush years, then they shouldn't try to recycle the same ideas and approaches. But don't take my word for it, Dan Drezner offers a similar warning in his own post on the VFW speech. 

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