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Is Peter Feaver Serious?

Peter Feaver tries to defend Romney and Ryan from the charge that they lack foreign policy experience:

It is fair to critique Romney’s foreign policy platform. It is fair to critique Romney’s campaign-related foreign travel.

It is even fair to say that after 3-plus years of on-the-job training President Obama now has more national security experience than Governor Romney has. But it is self-discrediting to turn that observation into a resume-based claim that a candidate with Romney’s extensive executive experience in global business and politics somehow flunks the commander-in-chief test.

Many of the criticisms of Romney’s inexperience are based on his public statements and the Romney campaign white paper. His inexperience has been reflected in some of the mistakes he made abroad, but more important it has been reflected in what he has said in his policy speeches and op-eds. When Romney has been criticized by members of his own camp for his overreaching and embarrassing campaign rhetoric (e.g., his anti-START op-ed, “defeat the Taliban,” “number one geopolitical foe,” saying he would do “the opposite” of Obama on policies related to Israel, etc.), it is usually because Romney has been freelancing and relying on his own judgment, which has been very poor.

These episodes reflect his lack of preparation on foreign policy, and that lack of preparation is partly a result of his lack of experience. Having spent the last six years running virtually non-stop for the Republican nomination, Romney has even fewer excuses for his lack of preparation than most current and former governors that seek the Presidency. After six years, Romney is making arguments that don’t stand up to much scrutiny. Worse than that, these arguments are often so bad that they are rejected as hopelessly misinformed or illogical. Commander-in-chief test? Romney has not yet passed the laugh test.

If Obama’s admittedly very limited experience in the Senate was insufficient in the eyes of national security hawks to qualify him for the Presidency four years ago, he did at least use some of that time in the Senate to educate himself on the relevant issues and demonstrate that he had a reasonably good grasp of them during his first presidential campaign. If national security hawks found Obama lacking four years ago, they should have even less patience with someone who has failed to do the same despite running for President for the second time and being out office for the last five and a half years. Feaver believes it is ridiculous to argue that Romney “flunks the commander-in-chief test,” but surely one part of passing that test involves understanding foreign policy issues. Romney has inspired very little confidence that he does, and he has given the public many reasons to doubt that he does. Besides, the burden of proof for Romney’s ability to pass the “commander-in-chief test” rests with Romney and his supporters, and so far they have done a bad job of making their case. Invoking Romney’s “extensive executive experience in global business and politics” isn’t very persuasive.

Feaver focuses his attention on Michael Cohen’s criticism of Romney and Ryan, but a large part of the Cohen argument he’s rejecting goes far beyond criticizing the Republican candidates. Cohen uses Ryan’s selection to make an observation about the modern GOP as a whole:

Gone are the days when the Republican bench had a deep lineup of national security heavyweights.

Cohen doesn’t dwell on this in his article, but what he could have said was that the Republicans used to have “a deep lineup of national security heavyweights not directly implicated in one of the greatest foreign policy debacles of modern American history.” There wasn’t a “deep lineup” available for the VP nomination because most of the top officials with sufficient experience in the last Republican administration were so thoroughly discredited by the administration’s failures that it never made sense to consider any of them as a running mate.

When Condi Rice’s name was floated as a possibility, everyone understood that it was just a distraction, and most people also understood that it would have been a terrible idea if it had happened. Romney’s possible running mates were all governors or members of Congress with little or no direct involvement in the Bush administration itself, because the Iraq war effectively destroyed the electability of anyone closely associated with it. As it was, every likely VP nominee had either voted for the war or vocally supported it. Those few members of Congress that voiced their doubts about the Iraq war after the 2006 midterms were practically chased out of the party or marginalized, so some of the few Republicans with some significant foreign policy experience and some shred of credibility with the public would never have been considered for the VP slot anyway. If Romney’s running mate were Chuck Hagel, no one would be able to make these attacks on the ticket’s lack of foreign policy experience, but we all know that Hagel would never be asked.

Cohen says that the days of the “deep lineup of national security heavyweights” in the GOP are gone, but remarkably Cohen doesn’t identify the chief reason for their absence. Those days are gone because the GOP engaged in political self-immolation with the invasion of Iraq and the persistent support the party provided to the war for the next eight years. Hawkish Republicans destroyed their party’s reputation on foreign policy and national security with the Iraq war. The fact that the GOP has two unrepentant supporters of that war on its presidential ticket shows that they still don’t understand what happened to them.

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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