Romney v. Obama Cont’d. Can the Center Hold?

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Yesterday I wrote about the sharp conservatism of Mitt Romney’s attack on Barack Obama’s START treaty with the Russians. Romney approaches the treaty’s fine print with the attitude of a Cold War hawk, i.e. that the Russians are nefarious enemies who should be treated with extreme mistrust. To Romney, every ambiguity in the treaty’s fine print should be interpreted as a Russian advantage and a humiliating concession by team Obama.

As I noted before, for a foreign policy neophyte Romney is rather boldly defying the views of several Republican wise men, including among others George W. Bush’s last national security advisor (and Dick Cheney protege) Steve Hadley, as well as Bush’s last (and Obama’s current) defense secretary, Robert Gates, a man who so distrusted the Soviets in the 1980s that he dismissed Gorbachev and perestroika.

Now comes Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican senator who is the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and another one of his party’s most respected foreign policy voices. Lugar has never been a Cheneyite hawk, but neither is he a reliable Democratic ally on the big issues. In this case, however, Lugar has no patience for Romney:

Mitt Romney, a possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate, is off base on his criticisms of an arms treaty with Russia, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Thursday. Lugar said Romney’s “hyperbolic attack” demonstrates he doesn’t understand arms control history and based his critique in “misreadings and myths.”

In an opinion column that appeared this week in the Washington Post, Romney said the START treaty is President Obama’s “worst foreign policy mistake yet” and should not be ratified….

Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Romney “repeats discredited objections” and noted that the treaty was endorsed by the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and “prominent Republican national security leaders, including Jim Schlesinger, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, and Brent Scowcroft, who have backed the treaty after thoughtful analysis.”

What you’re seeing, it seems to me, is a struggle between the GOP’s old-guard national security center and an resurgent, post-Iraq hawkish right wing–one that also includes Sarah Palin. The ambitious national politicians are driving the party’s agenda to places the seasoned experts don’t think it should go.

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