Mark Davis warns Romney against falling into what he calls the foreign policy “trap” in his upcoming speech on Monday:
The danger here is that if Romney comes across as a chest-beating, scorched-earth conservative, drawing lines in the sand over Tehran, the South China Sea, and charging headlong into Syria, the tiny slice of the American electorate that is still undecided or susceptible to changing their minds will hear only a single word resonating in their ears:
Davis seems to take for granted that Romney would not launch any new wars once in office, so for him this is a problem of presentation rather than one of policy substance. While this seems like a very bad misreading of Romney’s foreign policy views, it’s important to note that there are many other ways that a president can mismanage foreign policy that have nothing to do with plunging into unnecessary, prolonged wars of occupation. That’s an extremely low bar to clear, and it’s not certain that Romney would clear it if he were elected. Similarly, proving that one is more competent than Bush on foreign policy shouldn’t be hard, but for Romney it has been a titanic struggle that he has been losing.
When Bush was a candidate, he went out of his way not to be an alarming demagogue on foreign policy, but that is what he turned out to be anyway. The best hope for a Romney administration is that he isn’t the alarming demagogue he claims to be, which still isn’t much of a recommendation. If Romney’s foreign policy is as destabilizing as he promises it will be, it will not be much consolation to say, “Well, at least he didn’t invade Iran.”
Romney’s obvious contempt for diplomatic engagement is one thing that he won’t be able to fix in one speech. If Romney acknowledges that other major powers have legitimate interests, he isn’t letting anyone know about it. He has shown zero interest in cooperating with them even on issues where there are common interests, and he seems to think it is a priority that tensions between the U.S. and other major powers increase as soon as possible. He has repeatedly, mistakenly endorsed the idea that the U.S. should be in lockstep with its allies and clients at all times, which suggests that he can’t or won’t distinguish between American and allied interests even when they clearly diverge. It is easy to imagine how this could lead allies and clients to believe that they will receive U.S. backing to do whatever they want. While Romney likely considers this one of the strengths of his foreign policy, it is confirmation that he hasn’t given the subject much thought at all. Ultimately, it’s this lack of thought and Romney’s pattern of poor judgment that will matter far more when assessing Romney on foreign policy than any particular position.
Considering Romney’s support for the Iraq war and the uniformly pro-Iraq war advisers he has working for him, reassuring the public that he won’t repeat the biggest blunder of the last forty years is not really much reassurance at all. Do Romney and his advisers recognize that the Iraq war was a blunder, or are they only aware that it is very unpopular? It seems obvious that it’s the latter. If that’s the case, Romney could say anything on Monday and it wouldn’t change the fact that he shouldn’t be trusted to make good foreign policy decisions. Romney long ago fell into a foreign policy trap of his own making when he chose to campaign as an overly aggressive hawkish nationalist, and one speech isn’t going to get him out of it.