Bret Stephens wants Mitt Romney to give a terrible foreign policy speech. It begins like this:
Thank you, President Clinton. Thank you for being a true believer in American exceptionalism. Thank you for being a president who worked with a Republican Congress to balance our budgets and end welfare as we knew it. Thank you for building on the work of your Republican predecessor to expand free trade and bring millions of jobs to America. Thank you for using American power to rescue the people of the Balkans against a butcher in Belgrade—even when the U.N. and Russia tried to get in your way.
Besides being too gushing in its admiration for Clinton, this opening would be a terrible way for Romney to start such a speech. What could be less helpful for Romney in this election to associate himself with Clinton’s record of interventionism? The public isn’t clamoring to return to being a hyper-activist “hyperpower.” This isn’t the 1990s, and the public has no interest in “time-limited” military interventions, much less multi-year peacekeeping operations. Critics of Romney’s foreign policy views already believe he is only too willing to favor military action even in places where U.S. interests aren’t at stake, and Stephens’ solution is to suggest that Romney will follow Clinton’s example in that regard.
Then there is the implication that Stephens thinks the U.S. should do the same thing now, presumably in Syria, where Russia and the U.N. are frequently criticized by hawks for “getting in our way.” The U.S. shouldn’t be getting move involved in Syria, and the public has no desire for the government to do so, so there would be no benefit for Romney in hinting at this. This repeats a mistake that Romney and Ryan have made before now, which is to complain that the U.S. has been going through the U.N. on Syria, as if they were demanding that the U.S. take action in Syria without U.N. authorization. Of course, neither of them has been willing to say this publicly. Whatever Romney is going to say in his forthcoming speech, this shouldn’t be part of it.
Stephens’ imaginary speech says this a little later:
And speaking of principles, one of mine is that friends come first. So we will not try to appease the Russians at the expense of the Poles, or the Egyptians at the expense of Israelis, or the Chinese at the expense of anybody.
So this establishes that Romney is firmly against something that hasn’t been happening and isn’t going to happen. One remarkable thing about this made-up speech is that it includes so many made-up criticisms. It is a standard hawkish complaint that Russia has been appeased at Poland’s expense, but no one can demonstrate how Poland is any worse off now than it was in 2008. This is a good example of how contemporary opposition to “appeasement” is a pose entirely devoid of policy content. It is the rejection of a policy that doesn’t exist.
The lack of specific policy content throughout the entire speech is hard to miss. As Micah Zenko observed in response, “Even when conservatives write fantasy foreign policy speeches for Romney they have zero details.” Instead of saying “even when,” Zenko should have written, “especially when,” since this is the sort of speech that Republican hawks seem to crave most: bold statements of abstract principles that tell us nothing useful about what the hawk would do. Granting that Stephens had to try to sum up his argument in column form, what stands out is that it doesn’t explicitly make one specific substantive argument for or against anything. It condemns appeasement and praises clarity, and invokes Kennedy’s Inaugural “bear any burden line.” It reads as if it were a spoof of a neoconservative argument. Unfortunately, it isn’t a spoof. This is what most neoconservative arguments typically look like.