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October 01, 2012

Romney's Foreign Policy Veneer
Posted by David Shorr

Every time Mitt Romney tries to talk about foreign policy he only reveals himself as an emperor with no clothes, and his latest Wall Street Journal op-ed on the Middle East is no exception. Now it's true that Romney trots out my very favorite Republican magic word resolve -- a vague-to-meaningless virtue that supposedly deters hostile deeds and melts animosity. But Romney's WSJ piece represented such a new level of vacuity it made me think differently about Team Romney's approach.

I'm starting to think Governor Romney is merely trying to create the appearance of foreign policy. The best way to describe it would be akin to Stephen Colbert's famous truthiness. What would that be, foreign policyness? Or policyish? 

In other words, it's time to flip around the question about the lack of policy specifics and look at what's being provided in its place. I can't add much to what Greg ScobleteDaniel Larison, Danielle Pletka, and Jennifer Rubin have already said about how far Romney fell short of offering a constructive alternative to deal with the Middle East. Except this thought: what if this bland nonsense goes as far as the Romney camp feels compelled to? What if this is their unreflective, arrogant, of-course-we'd-do-it-better idea of a foreign policy? What if this looks like foreign policy to the nominee offering himself as the next commander in chief?

As I wrote in reaction to Romney's July speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Republicans' 2012 platform has often made me wonder if they really think foreign policy and national security are as easy as they make it sound. Their proposals carry no trace of difficult trade-offs, unintended consequences, or defiance in the face of "resolve." When I read passages like below, it only confirms a sense of the self-delusion: 

Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We're not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies...

Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We're unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law....

The Arab Spring presented an opportunity to help move millions of people from oppression to freedom. But it also presented grave risks. We needed a strategy for success, but the president offered none....

In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values.

But this Middle East policy will be undermined unless we restore the three sinews of our influence: our economic strength, our military strength and the strength of our values... 

For me, what really solidified this notion of the Romney campaign's confusion of superficiality with substance was top Romney adviser Jim Talent's appearance on Chuck Todd's Daily Rundown this morning. Go ahead and watch the clip for yourself, but I was struck by the off-handed way former Senator Talent said: "we can have a foreign policy where we stabilize these parts of the world if we'll act in the bipartisan traditions of foreign policy since World War II." Apparently all it would take to settle things down in the Middle East would be to "set forth a clear vision for where the region ought to go." Point the way to constitutional governance and respect for human rights, support those who are with us, oppose those who are against, and there you are! Stability, I guess. To his credit, Chuck Todd pressed the question of how deeply the United States should involve itself in molding political order in the region. Talent's response: "we should set forth a vision and identify and give credibility" to the good guys. (Hmmm, maybe I was wrong to pick on resolve, maybe vision is really the thing.) Then for good measure -- and with an attitude of why-don't-you-get-this impatience --Talent rattled off the essentials of the post-WWII consensus: "lead," "work through alliances," "maintain robust power," "anticipate events." 

As I say, what's emerging is that Mitt Romney isn't actually holding back the details of his foreign policy; he thinks he's offering them.

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