In the Arena

Romney on Foreign Policy

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A basic rule of thumb: Ignore foreign policy speeches by challengers in presidential elections. In most cases, they don’t know anything. They lack the detailed intelligence knowledge that a President has about a dicey situation like the civil war unfolding in Syria. Or they bend the truth in order to score points–Bill Clinton on China, John Kennedy on the “missile gap,” Richard Nixon on the possibilities of a negotiated peace in Vietnam, George W. Bush on the need for a “humble” foreign policy. Or they feature the thinking of ideologue advisers who tend to see the world as they want it to be rather than the way it is actually is. Mitt Romney’s speech today had all these flaws.

Romney’s overseas simplicities have been annoying from the start. His inclusion of congenitally bellicose and warmongering advisers–John Bolton shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a keyboard, much less the situation room–has weakened his credibility. His constant misrepresentation of the President’s position on Israel, muted today, has been a skeevy theme. His insistence that we should always, always agree with Israel–repeated as “no daylight between us” today–is ridiculous and dangerous: Israel’s national security is not identical to ours; Israel’s positions on its illegal West Bank settlements works very much to our disadvantage in the region. His rhapsodic support for Iran’s Green Movement betrays a showbiz sensibility more than the realities on the ground. The Supreme Leader would have loved to make the contest in the streets a battle between the Islamic Republic and the Great Satan; he could have killed a lot more people with the rationale of treason if our President had become a cheerleader for the protesters. (Oh, and by the way, the Green Movement leaders are every bit as hard line as Khamenei on Iran’s nuclear program, and harder line, if you can believe it, than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These things are complicated!) By the way, I still don’t know what Romney’s actual policy differences are from Obama on any other these things. That he’d have a coherent, one-size-fits-all strategy? Uh-oh.

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So it was a speech to be taken with several grains of fault. But I must say: Romney delivered it well. He’s really found his voice and his style. The attacks on Barack Obama were measured, more in sadness than in anger and, delivered that way, they seemed more plausible even when they were hogwash. Indeed, this may have been an early indication that Romney’s debate performance can be carried forward into a successful, perhaps winning, candidacy. This race is, officially, joined. From here on out, every day is huge for both candidates.