Mitt Romney’s critics can fairly point out that he is no foreign policy expert. No doubt some interviewer, somewhere, will soon catch him out not remembering (as Edward Lear put it) “Who, or why, or which, or what, is the Akond of Swat?” But he has, in fact, built up the weightiest and most broadly based team of foreign-policy advisers ever fielded by a Republican candidate. (The British have particular cause to be pleased with the prominent place held by Mitchell Reiss who, as special presidential envoy to Northern Ireland, was far tougher on Sinn Fein than Tony Blair.) There has been such an obsession in recent years with “neo-cons” that people have forgotten the strong place held in the United States by plain conservatives with no “neo-” attached.
Even if it were true that Romney’s advisers make up “the weightiest and most broadly-based team” of any Republican campaign in history (it isn’t), this is exactly the same justification George W. Bush supporters used to persuade skeptics that Bush’s remarkable lack of knowledge about the rest of the world wasn’t a serious problem. When Bush assumed office in 2001, the conventional view was that his national security team was one of the most experienced and qualified in decades. Bush’s defenders claimed that the people around him would make up for any of Bush’s deficiencies in this area. In the end, the advisers and appointees were not nearly as competent as most observers assumed them to be, and the poor preparation and lack of experience on Bush’s part proved to be disastrous.
The U.S. has already had quite enough experience with an inexperienced Republican governor surrounded by supposedly heavyweight foreign policy advisers to risk doing it again. An inexperienced and ignorant chief executive is more likely to listen to bad advice because he doesn’t know enough to recognize it as bad advice. Moore seems to be deliberately ignoring the neoconservatives on Romney’s campaign (the so-called “new neocons”), and it doesn’t occur to him that Republican hawks need not be neoconservatives to get things disastrously wrong.
What’s worse is that Romney has made some of his most egregious blunders when he freelances and ignores his advisers. Moore may be willing to dismiss Romney’s erroneous description of Russia as unimportant, but it reflects Romney’s tendency to say extremely hawkish things that even his own hawkish advisers cannot support. Nothing has happened in the last few months to make Romney’s “exaggeration” (as Moore calls it) any less embarrassing or inaccurate. It would be one thing if Romney demonstrated good judgment when he breaks with his advisers, but invariably his judgment has been poor because he remains ill-informed and dependent on partisan talking points to make his arguments. When Obama was legitimately criticized for his lack of experience, he was at least able to argue somewhat persuasively that he possessed good judgment. Romney can’t even fall back on that.
Moore mentions Mitchell Reiss as an example of the sort of advisers Romney has around him. In addition to being an advocate for the MEK terrorist group, Reiss is a Romney adviser known for favoring negotiations with the Taliban, which is something Romney has rejected as unacceptable. When some of Romney’s advisers take a sensible position, he ignores the advice and publicly repudiates it. Romney also tends to overstate his hawkish positions to such an extent that they become indefensible. When Romney exercises his own judgment and ignores his advisers, he blunders by being even more confrontational than they would be, and when he does listen to his advisers he simply adopts recycled Bush-era policies of confrontation.