Rosy scenarios aside, the bulk of Yoo’s piece is devoted to arguing that Mitt Romney can helpfully draw a contrast between an administration that defers military action to UN authorization or one that unilaterally starts a war with both Syria and Iran. I think it both overstates the extent to which Romney would start a war with Syria and understates the possibility that the Obama administration would take military force against Iran should push come to shove. As a bit of political salesmanship though, “vote for me and I’ll start not one but two more wars in the Mideast” sounds like a tough sell [bold mine-DL].
This is what makes Yoo’s article worth noting. It wouldn’t be remarkable that The Weekly Standard published yet another tedious complaint about insufficient U.S. action on Syria and Iran, nor would it be news that Yoo wrote the article. When the same article claims that promising wars against Syria and Iran would be a clever bit of electioneering between now and November, it gives the reader an idea of just how oblivious the author and the editors must be to the current public mood. Professional Republican hawks must be extremely out of touch if they think that attacking Obama for being inadequately militaristic is a vote-winner right now. Yoo writes:
The upcoming November elections present Republicans with an opportunity to draw a sharp contrast with Obama’s withdrawal of American leadership from the world. They can begin by making a powerful political and legal case for unilateral military action against the dictators in Syria and Iran.
Yoo is recommending that Romney and his surrogates spend the next six months vowing to pursue policies in the Near East that would raise the price of oil, which will then raise the price of gas that voters will have to pay. If there has a more tone-deaf political recommendation this year, I haven’t seen it. Not only does this greatly overestimate the public’s concerns about Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear program, but it also ignores that Romney has consistently trailed Obama when voters are asked whom they trust to handle international affairs. Romney has done his best to present himself as a nationalist and a hawkish interventionist, and that is how the public sees him. So far, the majority isn’t interested in what he has to offer, and he has already confirmed that he doesn’t understand enough about foreign policy to be trusted with the responsibilities of the office he is seeking.
Obama’s political vulnerability on foreign policy is that he has been only too willing to use force overseas and to escalate current military commitments. Even if this is more or less what Obama said he was going to do during his first term, it is one of the most unpopular parts of his record. Most voters don’t care about Libya one way or the other, but there is absolutely nothing to be gained by attacking Obama for his perceived reluctance in involving the U.S. there when most Americans wanted no part of Libya’s conflict. The vast majority opposes the war in Afghanistan and supports withdrawal, and yet virtually everything the public has heard from the presumptive Republican nominee is some variation on how U.S. soldiers will stay there longer if he has his way.
The bad news for the Romney campaign is that they were already trying to make foreign policy into a major issue for the general election before Yoo wrote this article. Yoo’s summary of the “failures” of Obama’s foreign policy may bear little resemblance to reality, but it accurately echoes Romney’s talking points. Obama’s foreign policy and national security record has obvious weaknesses and flaws that Republicans could exploit if they weren’t wedded to military interventionism, but apparently they can’t help themselves. What’s even worse for them is that they think they are already winning on these issues.