Kori Schake sees an opening for Romney on foreign policy:
It also leaves an awful lot of room for Romney to lay claim to foreign policy themes with wide public resonance, such as the ideas that the most important and enduring international relationships are built on common values; that you build coalitions with countries that share your interests rather than allowing countries that don’t to determine your choices; that where governments are repressive they lose the legitimacy to govern; that trade agreements advance our own economy and force adversaries to play by the rules; that new democracies deserve our help in building the institutions and practices of governance; that sound management of our foreign affairs requires the ability to bring political, economic, and military means together cost-effectively; that American military power is essential to maintaining a global order that is in our interests.
Romney doesn’t seem to have any advantage on most of these “themes.” Schake is just taking what she believes to be Obama’s failures and asserting that Romney has a “lot of room” to lay claim to “themes” that are supposed to represent the opposite of whatever Obama has done wrong. The common values theme is supposed to refer to Obama’s brief, half-hearted attempts at engagement with Iran and Syria, but there is no evidence that Romney’s reflexive opposition to diplomatic engagement has “wide public resonance.” There is also no reason to assume that Obama doesn’t accept the idea that “the most important and enduring international relationships are built on common values.” There is no space between the candidates on this point.
Obama may seem more vulnerable on trade policy to those fixated on trade deals with Colombia and South Korea, but he seems to accept the idea “that trade agreements advance our own economy and force adversaries to play by the rules.” Russian accession to the WTO and the administration’s push to normalize trade relations with Russia fit that description very well. Romney’s attacks on Russia policy routinely ignore Russia’s entry into the WTO and the benefits the U.S. will reap from normalized trade relations as a result. These things would further confirm that his hostility to all things related to the “reset” is misguided and ill-informed, which may be why he never mentions them. Besides, it’s not obvious that it puts Obama on the wrong side of public opinion when he is portrayed as being a reluctant supporter of unpopular free trade agreements.
Likewise, there isn’t much evidence that Obama doesn’t endorse the idea “that you build coalitions with countries that share your interests rather than allowing countries that don’t to determine your choices.” This is supposed to refer to Schake’s earlier charge that Obama has been “giving authoritarian governments the keys to our policy by refusing to consider U.S. action outside the framework of the U.N.” There is exactly one significant issue to which this charge possibly applies, and that is the conflict in Syria. The reality is that authoritarian governments don’t have the “keys to our policy,” since the policy appears to be to keep the U.S. out of the conflict. As I pointed out over the weekend, this policy is one that has “wide public resonance.” The public isn’t clamoring for the U.S. to take action in Syria without U.N. authorization. Most Americans aren’t dissatisfied that Obama hasn’t aligned the U.S. “with the advance of freedom in the Middle East,” since they harbor doubts that there is any “advance of freedom” with which to align ourselves.
Schake seems to be working on the flawed assumption that the standard Republican list of complaints against Obama on foreign policy will be appealing to voters. It may come as a shock that most Americans do not share the preoccupations of Republican foreign policy professionals. On almost every charge Schake makes, most Americans would generally approve of what Obama has done or tried to do, or they don’t care. For example, most Americans are pleased that Obama has “written off” Iraq, and they don’t care if he was “leading from behind” in Libya. Obama and Romney don’t meaningfully disagree about any of these “themes.” Romney doesn’t have an “awful lot of room” to lay claim to these themes. On most of these themes, he has no room to maneuver at all.