Home/Daniel Larison/Romney’s Foreign Policy Attacks Are a Pointless Distraction for His Campaign

Romney’s Foreign Policy Attacks Are a Pointless Distraction for His Campaign

Jennifer Rubin’s complaints about the Romney campaign are no less ridiculous in their way than her criticisms of the administration on China, but they are much more amusing:

Last year, Romney gave a forceful foreign policy speech and released a white paper….Since then, Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements have been sporadic, defensive and incomplete. It is not for lack of brilliant and competent foreign policy experts. What is lacking is the will and determination [bold mine-DL] to communicate on a sustained basis Romney’s foreign policy views and highlight the contrasts between him and the president. It’s high time the campaign went on offense and stopped merely deflecting Obama’s attacks. In short, the Romney team needs to “man up” on national security.

It’s easy to dismiss this as nothing more than the inevitable dissatisfaction of a hawkish ideologue, but it also shows a curious lack of attention to what the Romney campaign has been doing over the last few months. Considering that Romney has been competing in semi-meaningful primary contests until late last month, he and his campaign have already devoted an inordinate amount of time to foreign policy. It hasn’t been working for them, and for Romney’s sake they need to stop it.

Romney and his campaign have been attacking Obama’s policies on China, Iran, and Russia in recent months. February was the month for China-bashing and making lame criticisms of the “pivot” to Asia. Early March was the time for Romney to publish a bad op-ed on Iran. The campaign then spent much of the second half of March trying to make an issue out of the missile defense non-controversy. Last week saw a rather desperate-sounding campaign attack that was little more than an exercise in throwing a lot of things at the wall to see what would stick. They have been on offense, they have been picking fights, and they have been losing. Worst of all for them, they don’t seem to know that they’re losing.

What still doesn’t make sense is why the Romney campaign thinks threatening a trade war with China or promising to wreck relations with Russia is advantageous, or why launching more attacks along these lines would benefit Romney politically. It may not hurt Romney to indulge in ritual China-bashing, but Romney is hardly plausible as an economic nationalist. For the most part, his rhetoric on China has produced a lot of mockery and derision and not much else. Romney isn’t going to lose any persuadable voters because he rejects current Russia policy, since persuadable voters usually care about foreign policy even less than most other voters, but it isn’t gaining him anything, either.

Focusing so much on foreign policy is mostly a distraction for the campaign, but it’s one that they can’t seem to resist. It’s also a waste of time and resources that could be better spent focusing on domestic and specifically economic issues. Romney is unlikely to lose the election because of foreign policy issues as such, but his opportunity costs are increasing the more time and energy he takes away from what is supposed to be his core election message. At the moment, he is handing the Obama campaign a lot of ammunition to use to ridicule his judgment and his experience, and he is allowing them to frame the election in a way that is tedious and demagogic (“Bin Laden dead and GM alive”) but also most advantageous to Obama. What Romney doesn’t need to do is engage in pointless feuds over Obama’s handling of every event that occurs overseas. It doesn’t just make Romney look bad to those Republicans who actually think dissenting against the executive’s conduct of foreign policy is poor form, but it pulls him into unnecessary controversies over things that are irrelevant to most voters and to Romney’s campaign.

P.S. I meant to mention this earlier, but Rubin’s complaint about the Romney campaign includes another bad neoconservative habit of explaining any perceived failure in terms of a lack of will, as if all that were needed to make a certain policy or campaign strategy successful was an extra dose of willpower and resolve. These people would tell Sisyphus that he just needs to focus and try harder.

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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