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Substituting Nostalgia for Analysis

Will Marshall objects to Romney’s lack of foreign policy substance:

With less than 100 days to go, Romney has yet to develop a coherent outlook on U.S. security and leadership in a networked world. What we get instead is GOP boilerplate about American greatness and exceptionalism, and a pastiche of spaghetti-against-the wall criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy.

What if the boilerplate and the “spaghetti-against-the wall criticisms” are all that Romney’s advisers have to offer? What coherent view could any candidate articulate that requires what one observer has aptly called “omni-directional belligerence”? A foreign policy of simultaneous hostility towards Russia, China, and Iran is inevitably incoherent and unmoored from any sober assessment of U.S. security interests.

When analysts and pundits decry Romney’s lack of foreign policy substance, they seem intent on ignoring the disturbing reality that Romney and many of his supporters believe they have been making substantive contributions to the debate. Media coverage often treats Romney’s criticisms of Obama’s record as if they were somehow different from the criticisms that Republican foreign policy professionals have been making for the last three and a half years. Romney is adopting and channeling their arguments. He certainly didn’t come up with them himself. If his foreign policy is lacking, it is because he is relying on standard Republican foreign policy arguments, and those arguments have been poor for a lot longer than the last few years.

Marshall understandably found Romney’s VFW speech to be similarly lacking:

Substituting nostalgia for analysis, Romney echoed Henry Luce’s call for an “American Century” as though it was 1941 all over again and all the historical curveballs thrown our way never happened.

Obama has used the same trope repeatedly in a manner that also tries to ignore contemporary realities and limits of American power, but leave that aside for now. Once again, Marshall criticizes Romney here for doing something that virtually all national Republican politicians and many Republican analysts have been doing for over a decade. Yes, Romney is substituting nostalgia for analysis, but in what way is that different from anything McCain or George W. Bush did before him? That has been true of the GOP on foreign policy for at least the last eleven years. The “war on terror” was reimagined as a successor to WWII and the Cold War in which jihadism would be treated as a new global totalitarian threat. It didn’t matter that this was a thoroughly misleading way to think about jihadist threats. Iraq war supporters imagined that post-invasion Iraq could be rebuilt and successfully transformed because “we did it in Germany and Japan,” which conveniently ignored the differences between those countries and Iraq. Republican democratists believed that democracy promotion would succeed in the Near East because of what happened in post-communist central and eastern Europe in the 1990s, which also ignored basic political and cultural differences. Republican hawks were frequently falling back on irrelevant historical precedents and implementing policies that made no sense for the contemporary world.

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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