This Washington Post story on Mitt Romney’s plans to run hard against Barack Obama on foreign policy doesn’t persuade me that Romney has any especially clever new ideas on that front.
We already know that Romney will hammer Obama for pressuring Israel over settlements and its borders (although Romney has misled about Obama’s position on the latter). Those attacks could peel away some Jewish and pro-Israel voters otherwise inclined to support Obama, but that pool of voters may be relatively small.
We also know that Romney is gung-ho about demonizing Russia and calling Obama soft on Putin. But on the list of issues the American voter cares about, Russia–and even related matters, like missile defense–might not crack the top twenty.
China? That’s something voters care quite a lot about. And Romney, free like all White House challengers to talk macho without fear of starting a trade war, has been on that case from the start. But Obama, too, is getting tougher on China. (Why, I even suspect that Obama has whispered to some Chinese leader or another, away from a hot mic, that to prepare for some sharper rhetoric in the next few months and not to worry too much about it.)
Iraq and Afghanistan? Americans seem barely to care about the former, alas. The latter is tricky for everyone involved. If Obama speeds up withdrawal, Romney can invoke the generals and attack him for it. But then Romney will be very much afoul of public opinion.
A big wild card here is Iran. But, as with Afghanistan, it’s not clear where Romney finds his opening. Polls show public support for continued sanctions and attempted diplomacy with Tehran, which is Obama’s current policy. Romney can try to out-hawk Obama, but the public is divided at best about taking military action.
Meanwhile Obama can tout his success in Libya, drone strikes in Pakistan and the under-appreciated absence of a successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since he was sworn in. Not to mention one of the best applause lines of all time: “Osama bin Laden is dead.” Romney has his work cut out for him.