Daniel Larison rightly questions Jacob Heilbrunn’s highly questionable opposition of “neoconservative” and “Massachusetts moderate” foreign policy views fighting for the soul (or, at least, the brain) of Mitt Romney. But he then goes on to say:
It’s also a mistake to think that there is any contradiction between being a social liberal and supporting hard-line and hawkish foreign policy. If you doubt that, just consider Giuliani . . . Moderate Republicans in general may tend to be less inclined to ideological and hard-line foreign policy views, but most moderate Republicans on the national stage tend to be hawkish on foreign policy partly because that seems to compensate for their disagreements with movement conservatives on domestic issues.
Larison is absolutely right that there’s a species of, let’s call them “New Republic-ans” who are relatively moderate on some domestic issues but extremely hawkish on foreign policy: Giuliani, McCain, etc. And there’s also a species of Midwestern Republican who are relatively moderate, Hamiltonian-types on foreign policy and who are temperamentally conservative but not very ideological on domestic issues: Dole, Lugar, etc.
But the distinguishing mark about Romney’s foreign policy views is that they aren’t seriously-considered views at all. They are transparently opportunistic ploys designed purely for political positioning. In this, he resembles no recent Republican candidate, and most closely resembles President Clinton in 1992.
Candidate Clinton, you will recall, did his share of hawkish posturing; he attacked President Bush for coddling the “butchers of Beijing,” for example. And he did more than his share of shameless positioning, saying, for example, that he would have voted for the Gulf War resolution even though he would privately have opposed the war. And he did his share of box-checking for domestic constituencies with in keen interest in places like Ireland, Israel, Cuba. But there was no serious attempt to wrap these various opportunistic moves into a coherent foreign policy vision.
And, in office, Clinton’s foreign policy consisted mostly of feckless preening about America’s “indispensability” while squandering the opportunities presented by the first President Bush’s masterful handling of the end of the Cold War, and primarily serving the interests of international finance capital. We forget, now, because his successor was so disastrous on so grand a scale, that at the end of Clinton’s second term he may have been a globally-famous “rock star” but most world leaders were glad to see the back of him.
All signs point to Romney being cut from a Republican version of the same cloth. The global context is different, and therefore the policies would undoubtedly be substantially different as well, but what I’d expect from a Romney Presidency is neither a moderate Eisenhower foreign policy of cautious consolidation of a hegemonic position, nor a radical Bush II foreign policy of imperial dragon-slaying, but a lot of gratuitously alienating bombast around a policy aimed at short-term political considerations and the interests of international finance. Could we do worse? Sure – President Santorum could be leading armies of Christian soldiers through Caracas on the way to La Paz. But we could do better – indeed, right now we are.
President Obama has played Eisenhower-on-Korea in his handling of Iraq, Nixon-on-Vietnam in his handling of Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Clinton-on-Kosovo in his handling of Libya. That’s a mixed bag, to be sure. But any unbiased observer would have to conclude that he takes foreign policy seriously. There is no evidence that Mitt Romney has given the subject a second’s serious thought.