James Joyner continues the discussion on Romney and the Republican foreign policy “establishment”:
Like Scowcroft and Powell, I’m a bit concerned about some of Romney’s public statements, notably his saber rattling on Iran and Syria. Ditto his knee-jerk support of hard line Likud policies. The problem, however, is separating stump speech rhetoric from governing priority.
I wrote about this earlier this week, so I don’t want to rehearse all of those arguments again. Separating campaign rhetoric from governing priorities may not be as much of a problem as it seems to be. Consider the statements that concern James. On Syria, Romney has not been quite as reckless in his rhetoric as he has on Iran or Russia, and his policy is indistinguishable from the one that the administration is reportedly implementing. However, the agitation for more “leadership” in Syria is coming mostly from his party. Romney has made a point of defining his foreign policy in terms of asserting American “leadership.” It is doubtful that he would resist pressure from inside his party for even deeper U.S. involvement in Syria if he were in office next year, and this is partly because of his hawkishness towards Iran.
On Iran and Russia, he has boxed himself in with pledges and statements that he will be expected to translate into policy. Romney has asserted that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon if he is president, but it will have one if Obama is re-elected. Viewed one way, that’s just demagoguery, but it does mean that Romney has flatly ruled out the possibility of containing a nuclear-armed Iran. Theoretically, Obama has also ruled out containment, but Romney’s advisers are generally much more hostile to the idea of containing Iran and they are more receptive to taking military action against Iran. It is easier to imagine Obama settling for containment, which would be much more difficult for Romney within his own party.
Obviously, Romney is more than capable of abandoning a position when it is in his political interest to do so, but that doesn’t mean that he would abandon any of his foreign policy positions. After all, these are the only issues on which he had no previous public opinions, which make his foreign policy views the only ones he has consistently held. Unlike many of his views on domestic issues, which reflect the contradictions between his past record and his current agenda, we have no reason to assume that the foreign policy positions he takes are not the ones that he will try to put into practice.
Given the public’s opposition to new foreign wars following more than a decade of warfare, it is significant that Romney insists on portraying himself as more hawkish and aggressive than Obama. That suggests that he is more concerned to establish his “credibility” on foreign policy by adopting hard-line positions on virtually everything, and he seems to feel compelled to make up for what he doesn’t know by reassuring hard-liners in his party that he is on their side. We have seen that when Romney relies on his own judgment, he blunders badly on these issues, and to the extent that he is following his advisers’ guidance he is still going to be conducting foreign policy in the fashion of George W. Bush. Public statements, campaign personnel, and political incentives all suggest that Romney would govern more or less as a reckless hawk. There would be continuities between administrations, because there always are, but there’s really no excuse for pretending that Romney’s foreign policy isn’t the throwback to the Bush era that it clearly is.
What’s far more important is figuring out what the coalition who nominated him and is trying to elect him really wants, because that’s how he’ll actually govern.
One common theme in Romney’s foreign policy is “anything but Obama,” which is what the vast majority of the Republican coalition wants, and Romney seems likely to deliver that both to satisfy his partisans and to create clear differences between his administration and that of his predecessor.