I continue to doubt the utility of this trip. Few Americans are dissatisfied with Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and few want—or need—Romney to articulate an alternative.
That’s basically right. I would qualify that by saying that there are no Americans dissatisfied with Obama’s foreign policy that weren’t already going to vote for Romney, and there are some possible Romney voters that could conceivably be alienated by Romney’s imitation of a hard-liner. If there is any demand for an alternative because of dissatisfaction with Obama’s excessive hawkishness, the obvious candidates to provide that alternative for libertarians and conservatives are Gary Johnson and, much less credibly, Virgil Goode. Both Johnson and Goode have foreign policy views and records that don’t fully satisfy non-interventionists, but they are obviously preferable to what the major party candidates have to offer. The Green Party’s Jill Stein hasn’t said all that much on these issues, but she would be the most obvious choice for disaffected progressives. However, minor party candidates are apparently having less of an impact on the election than usual, but most of the likely third-party voters are coming out of Romney’s coalition rather than Obama’s. Romney certainly does nothing to help himself with possible Johnson and Goode voters by drawing more attention to his aggressive foreign policy views.
Bizarrely, Romney seems to have become more ideological in his foreign policy statements after the primary season was effectively over than he was before. He has been doing the opposite of what one would expect a general election candidate to do. He and his campaign hope that the trip will make him look like a statesman, but Romney can easily sabotage that effort simply by speaking.
There is an amusing quote in the story from one of Romney’s senior advisers, Tom Rath:
He’s not going to suggest strategic alliances or say he’s going to sign treaties. This is not the place. This is to demonstrate that he can lead the foreign policy of the United States.
It’s not as if anyone was expecting Romney to unveil treaty proposals, but how exactly does one “demonstrate” the ability to “lead the foreign policy” of the U.S. by giving speeches in foreign countries? Changing locations doesn’t make Romney’s foreign policy statements any more sensible or wise. Declaring that the 21st century must be an American century doesn’t sound any less pretentious or nationalistic when one says it in Europe, and probably will seem even more so. Something else that makes this foreign excursion seem like a waste of time is that Romney will be constrained from saying anything critical about Obama or his policies while overseas. As the article says, he will be drawing implicit contrasts between his views and Obama’s, but the only people interested in the implied criticism will be those that already agree with Romney’s earlier explicit attacks.