Home/Daniel Larison/Why Republican Hawks Don’t Care That Romney Has No Foreign Policy Experience

Why Republican Hawks Don’t Care That Romney Has No Foreign Policy Experience

The deserved mockery of Romney and Ryan’s inexperience on foreign policy continues to grate on some Republicans. Alana Goodman is irked:

It’s true that Obama had about as much familiarity with these issues in 2008 as Romney and Ryan do now. But Obama could have spent a decade on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he still wouldn’t have a clue; look at Biden. His foreign policy failures aren’t a result of greenness, they’re a result of incompetence and a defective worldview.

I’m not very interested in rehashing why the first claim isn’t accurate. If Goodman wants to believe that Romney has as much familiarity with foreign policy issues now as Obama did in 2008, she is free to do so, but it’s not a stretch to say that there is no evidence to support that belief. Romney has been campaigning for this office more the better part of the last six years, and he still speaks and writes about these issues as if he were a novice. I’m sure very few voters care about this, and even fewer are going to vote against him because of it, but it’s just not true to say that he has demonstrated any real familiarity with foreign policy issues.

Because he hasn’t, and because he would be losing on foreign policy anyway because he is a Republican, it has always been the smarter move for him politically to change the subject and talk about almost anything else. To some extent, he has done this. This has not been a matter of ceding ground so much as it was an acknowledgement that the ground had been lost a long time ago. As long as Romney was going to be a conventional Republican hawk, there was not much that he could have done to avoid reminding the public of the disastrous foreign policy record of the previous administration.

Unless he separated himself from that record so that everyone could see it, he was going to have to bear the new Republican political reality. This is that most Americans don’t trust the party to manage foreign policy competently anymore, because the last time they did they were rewarded with one of the most incompetent foreign policy administrations of modern times. Republican hawks can’t and won’t believe that the Bush administration is perceived this way, and so they don’t fully understand why Romney is at a disadvantage on these issues.

Goodman’s comment tells us that Romney and Ryan’s lack of experience truly is irrelevant to Goodman, and I suspect it is irrelevant to a lot of other Republican hawks this election. What matters is that she assumes Romney and Ryan are competent (which is a guess) and have the “right” worldview (i.e., one closer to her own). That is a useful reminder that Romney and Ryan appear qualified in the eyes of Republican hawks not because of what they know, but because of the ideological assumptions they accept.

It doesn’t seem to trouble Goodman that the same charge of “defective worldview” can easily be turned around on Romney and Ryan, nor does she seem concerned that the positions their worldview compels them to take are for the most part wildly unpopular ones. Goodman says that Romney has “so many opportunities to dominate the argument on foreign policy,” which isn’t true. What she means is that Romney has so many opportunities to demonstrate his ideological conformity while losing the argument.

Update: Jordan Michael Smith makes some related points here.

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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