The early consensus seems to be that Obama’s speech was not particularly impressive, and that seems right, but it does seem to have been sufficient for his purposes at the end of the convention. His brief digression on foreign policy was of the greatest interest to me. As John Kerry had done earlier in the evening, and as Jim Antle suggested he might in a recent article here, Obama quickly dismantled Romney’s claims to both judgment and experience on this front. This is not hard to do, and Romney has gone out of his way for the last year to make sure it was easy.
Some Republicans and conservatives bridled at Obama’s remark that Romney and Ryan are “new” to foreign policy. Of course, many of them made the same complaint against Obama, whose experience was indeed very limited. Obama and his supporters ignored it or sought to deflect it by appealing to good judgment. Regardless, one reason this jab irritates some Republicans so much is that it is a perfectly valid and fair criticism of the current Republican ticket, and it is one that they have used in the past and would have used if the roles were reversed this time.
Can you imagine what would be said about a Democratic ticket that included a former one-term governor and a young member of the House whose main claim to foreign policy experience is lockstep support for one of the most incompetent administrations in modern history? We would never hear the end of how their party was neglecting national security. However, because Romney and Ryan say the “right” hawkish things, their lack of preparation is dismissed as irrelevant or no worse than anyone else’s. Of course, experience is no guarantee of wisdom or good decisions. Many of the people involved in the previous failed administration were very experienced. Experience is no substitute for good judgment. If candidates have already shown bad judgment, a lack of experience is hardly reassuring.
So the real issue, as ever, is judgment. Romney’s “number one geopolitical foe” blunder on Russia painted a giant, red target on his back for Obama to hit, and Obama did just that. Obama said:
After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy – and not al Qaeda – unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally. My opponent said it was “tragic” to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan.
Obama took everything that is supposed to prove that Romney is “tough” and reliable (his antagonism towards Russia, his trip abroad, his reflexive support for prolonged wars) and showed how it proves he is unprepared and irresponsible. The Russia blunder plays into the hands of the Democrats more than any other. That blunder comes out of Romney’s knee-jerk rejectionism of current Russia policy. The arguments behind that rejectionism have no supporting evidence, which has forced Romney to ignore the policy’s modest successes and pretend that they never happened.
It was fitting that the Romney campaign chose today to release a memo on Obama’s supposed foreign policy failures, since most of the arguments included in the memo re-confirmed that Romney still doesn’t know what he’s talking about and has chosen not to correct his previous mistakes. Romney’s mistakes on Russia policy reflect the larger flaws in his foreign policy vision: it is based on illusions and outdated assumptions, it prioritizes checking off ideological boxes over securing American interests, and it refuses to acknowledge the merit of policies that advance the national interest when they rely on diplomatic engagement and negotiation. As a result, it didn’t take much to demolish the entire structure, and that is what happened tonight.