I defer to Daniel Larison’s harsh criticism of Mitt Romney’s campaign tack on the Libya murders. His opinion is persuasive to me. Overall, though, yesterday it seemed that much of the news coverage focused on whether or not it was appropriate or strategically sound for Romney to have said what he said — horse race stuff. That’s an important angle, but it would be a damn shame if we stayed on that point, and missed the opportunity to talk about the wisdom of the Obama administration’s involving America in a war to overthrow Qaddafi. To be sure, I am certain that if Romney had been president, with John McCain breathing down his neck, he would have done the same thing as Obama. The questions include: Did America do the right thing? What is our policy with regard to mass uprisings in the Middle East? Is the Bush “freedom agenda” still operative among Republicans (based on Romney’s recent incoherent statements, it seems clear that it is)? What about among Democrats, who surely wouldn’t lay claim to it, but are they not de facto followers of it? Hasn’t Obama, who ran against Bush’s foreign policy, taken up far more of it than his supporters are comfortable with? What do we do with that?
To be clear, it’s damned difficult to know what the right thing to do in the Middle East is. The discussion I would like to see is not Romney-Obama tit-for-political-tat, but a clear, logical comparison of the two candidates’ strategic visions for the Middle East in the Arab Spring/Islamist era. I would like to see some leadership.
I would also like a pony.
Anyway, James Joyner is right:
Regardless, it’s not at all clear what Romney proposes to do differently than his opponent. He wants to decrease Europe’s energy reliance on Russia by supporting Nabucco and other pipeline projects. So do I. But so does Obama. Beyond that, he talks in vague platitudes about building stronger relations with Central Asian countries and supporting civil society in Russia. But those are longstanding, bipartisan goals of U.S. foreign policy.
The Romney campaign’s foreign policy approach ultimately suffers the same basic flaw as its domestic policy approach: in trying to be all things to all people, it ultimately satisfies no one. Those of us in the increasingly marginalized Realist foreign policy camp are left clinging to the hope that the appointment of seasoned hands like Bob Zoellich to the team signals that Romney will be the serious pragmatist that he was as governor of Massachusetts. But the empty saber rattling and cozing up to Netanyahu and John Bolton are attempts to satisfy the neoconservative wing that Mitt’s one of them.
The net result is that no one really knows what a Romney foreign policy would look like. Increasingly, I’m not sure that even Romney knows.
I get the Romney-bashing, I really do. I’m for it. But I think the larger story is that the foreign policy questions facing the US are so difficult that neither side seems to have a good handle on them.