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Republican Hawks Run Away From Their Own Echo

Danielle Pletka revisits the role of foreign policy in the Romney campaign:

The real trouble was lack of interest and vision. Since the early Cold War, the Republican Party has been the bedrock of U.S. defense and vice versa. Yet none of the key players within the campaign — other than the candidate himself — was actually interested in national security. Sure, Romney had an impressive roster of foreign-policy advisors, but most were relegated to useless conference calls. The belief that the election would be won on the economy and the economy alone resulted in painful, often incoherent, attempts to take advantage of Obama’s national security shortcomings.

As I’ve noted before, Pletka considers “vision” much more important than foreign policy knowledge, so it’s not surprising that she faults the Romney campaign for its lack of it. It’s true that there was a lack of interest in the subject, which contributed greatly to the candidate’s lack of knowledge, but this was a lack of interest that Romney’s party seemed to encourage and reward. Indeed, so long as a candidate has the right “instincts” and the right “vision,” Republican hawks keep telling themselves, it doesn’t matter if they know very much, and so there is no incentive to learn anything and no penalty for ignorance.

The “painful” and “often incoherent” attempts to attack Obama on foreign policy and national security did not come out of nowhere. In most cases, Romney’s criticisms of Obama’s record were taken directly from common movement conservative arguments. On everything from his obsession with the 2009 decision on missile defense to his mindless Russophobia to his automatic support for Israeli policies to his complaints about Obama’s response to the Green movement, Romney was serving as little more than a conduit for prevailing Republican foreign policy arguments. There’s no denying that these arguments were often painfully bad and incoherent, but the poor quality of these arguments can’t be pinned solely on Romney or his campaign staffers. Many of the people who presume to speak for the party on matters of foreign policy crafted those arguments, and they are responsible for them.

Romney’s campaign spent most of its time talking about economic issues, but it still wasted an inordinate amount of time launching the incoherent foreign policy attacks that Pletka mentions. Refraining from making those attacks wouldn’t have saved Romney, since his main assumptions about the state of the economy were wrong and his economic agenda seemed largely irrelevant to most voters, but attacks weren’t incoherent because he was too focused on the economy. He made incoherent attacks on foreign policy because he was echoing what his party’s hawks wanted him to say, and because the Republican foreign policy case against Obama is itself incoherent and lacking in substance. Pletka and other Republican hawks like her created most of the confused foreign policy message that Romney used during the election, and now they don’t want to have to answer for it.

Pletka continues:

He asserted (in what we can only assume was a silly slip of the tongue [bold mine-DL]) that Russia was America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

One might assume that this was a “silly slip of the tongue,” but Romney and his defenders insisted for months that it was no such thing. Instead of dismissing the phrasing as an unfortunate blunder, the campaign did everything they could to reinforce the idea that Romney took this claim seriously. Leaving aside the phrase itself, there was nothing in Romney’s positions on Russia and Russia policy that set him apart from most Republican hawks. He was reflexively opposed to New START, he was adamant that the 2009 missile defense decision represented a “betrayal” of Poland and the Czech Republic, and he pretended that the “reset” was an “abject failure” instead of the modest, limited success that it was.

The “number one geopolitical foe” line was absurd, but it was simply taking his already dangerous and outdated Russophobia to an extreme. If calling Russia “our number one geopolitical foe” had been the only ignorant or foolish thing Romney had said about Russia all year, it would have been quickly forgotten. The reason that it wasn’t quickly forgotten is that it was useful for summing up Romney’s view on Russia, and for the most part Romney and his allies were proud of what he had said. The line about Russia is a perfect example of how Romney made himself ridiculous by following the hawkish Republican line, and some Republican hawks would like nothing more than to have everyone forget that.

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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