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Drezner: Maybe Romney Just Doesn’t Care About Foreign Policy

Dan Drezner makes this observation about Romney in his endorsement of Obama:

Every conversation with every Romney advisor confirms the same thing: this is not a guy who has engaged deeply in international affairs. He was perfectly happy to go all neocon-y in the primary season to appeal to his base, and then tack back to the center in the general election to appeal to war-weary independents. He’s not doing this because he’s dishonest; he’s doing this because he doesn’t care [bold mine-DL]. His choice of foreign policy neophyte Paul Ryan as his VP pick confirms this as well: Romney/Ryan has the least foreign policy experience of any GOP ticket in at least sixty years.

That’s mostly right. I question how much tacking “back to the center” Romney has actually done, but I agree that he has tried to create the impression that he won’t start any new wars. As for experience, it’s true that many presidential nominees have lacked formal foreign policy experience, but there are no modern nominees that have seemed so uninterested in the subject while adopting consistently hard-line positions at the same time. Judging by Romney’s “American Century” rhetoric, he has a very ambitious vision for what the U.S. should be doing in the world, but his grasp of foreign policy issues is often superficial even by the standards of presidential campaigns.

One thing that the Bush years should have taught us is that an inexperienced candidate with little interest in foreign policy doesn’t improve once in office even when he is surrounded by experienced people. Someone might object that Bush cared about foreign policy more than Romney does, but it seems to me that the lack of curiosity is the same in both. That suggests that Romney will be pushed in the direction that his foreign policy advisers want him to go. Because he seems to go along with what selected “experts” tell him (even when those “experts” tell him plainly false things as they did on New START), his apparent lack of interest in foreign policy becomes more worrisome in light of the kinds of “experts” he has around him.

When previous presidential nominees have lacked a strong grounding in foreign policy, they have sought to correct for this by choosing a running mate with significant experience. As Drezner notes, Romney did the opposite: he chose Ryan, whose main foreign policy qualifications were that he voted for two wars and reliably supported the Bush administration’s policies. Considering that the presidential campaign was focused almost entirely on economic issues until very recently, that was an understandable political choice, but it wasn’t the sort of choice that one makes with the future conduct of foreign policy in mind.

Drezner continues:

Furthermore, in the moments during this campaign when Romney has been required to display his foreign policy instincts, he’s foundered badly.

It seems to me that this is Romney’s biggest flaw. When he has had opportunities to prove doubters and critics wrong, he has instead demonstrated even poorer judgment than many of us thought was possible. If good judgment and good instincts are more important than specialized knowledge and experience, Romney went from one episode to the next showing that he had none of these things. It is difficult to recall many previous presidential challengers making as many of the high-profile foreign policy blunders that Romney did during the campaign. In another era, this would have so shaken the confidence of most voters in his ability to be president that the election wouldn’t be as close as it is. The amazing thing in this election is that someone who has thus far not demonstrated his readiness to be president still has a small chance to win.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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