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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 [1]:

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 [2].

32 Comments (Open | Close)

32 Comments To "Why Republican Hawks Don’t Care That Romney Has No Foreign Policy Experience"

#1 Comment By Dan Phillips On September 8, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

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

Because for the hawks its not about experience. It is about bellicose rhetoric.

#2 Comment By Amos Newcombe On September 8, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

The hawks prefer that he have no foreign policy experience. Otherwise he might have inconvenient ideas of his own that would interfere with their manipulation of him.

#3 Comment By Sean Scallon On September 8, 2012 @ 1:39 pm

It’s useful for Romney to have no foreign policy experience because it forces his dependency on presumably neocon influenced foreign policy advisers, just as Bush II through much of his term in office. The same was true for Sarah Palin and even Paul Ryan as well.

If Romney really wants to shake up the campaign and bring in independents who probably would never support him he should fire all his foreign policy advisers, renounce the neocons and say his budget will cut defense spending. Why not? He does not need them anymore to win the nomination and those who are more anti-Obama than pro-Romney aren’t going to be any less anti-Obama. He’ll still have them. He would gain far more than he would lose and make him look like his own man than a puppet of conservative interest groups.

#4 Comment By dSquib On September 8, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

I’d submit that some hawks may not be as deluded as they come across. They may understand the lack of appetite for foreign intervention amongst Americans, but also understand that the Arab Spring, Iran, Syria and so on could foment a vague sense of uncertainty in Americans, for which “strong” action can be emotionally palliative, if not actually palliative.

As such hawks preferred tactic is to include “bad things happening across the world” each as specific Obama foreign policy failures. They don’t go into details, that’s not the point.

That’s not to say Romney can gain an advantage on foreign policy before the election, but that it may still serve to benefit the hawks long term for Romney to gin up any and all foreign conflicts or crises as potential threats to America. Obama has a clear advantage on Romney, but that must be partly because most Americans understand Obama is not the non-interventionist, who shirks American “leadership” in the world, that hawks make him out to be.

#5 Comment By CUNY Kos On September 8, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

I agree with Amos Newcombe above. In the neocon playbook a candidate’s ignorance of foreign policy is not a defect but rather proof of his potential utility.

In fact, the only thing better than a stupid, uninformed (but winning) politician is one who has been personally compromised. Both types facilitate the preferred neocon
M.O., which is the exercise of power at a safe distance from the consequences of said exercise.

#6 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 8, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

Their predicament is that what these hawks think of as “strength” looks like insanity to the rest of us. They are a daily reminder of how much worse things could get and how much worse they would have been under McCain. If they want Obama to lose, the best they could do would be to smother him with their praise.

“preferred tactic is to include “bad things happening across the world” each as specific Obama foreign policy failures”

Yes, it is, which is why their criticisms aren’t remotely credible. I suppose someone might have tried blaming Bush for the war in the Congo, but no one would have believed it (and certainly not the people who think that conflict in Syria is somehow Obama’s failing). There’s no persuadable constituency out there for becoming more enmeshed in politics of Near East.

#7 Comment By Maria On September 8, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

Romney is a tool for the neocons as long as he doesn’t express his own ideas – just like Bush. Romney = Useful Idiot

#8 Comment By Clint On September 8, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

Romney is The Neocons’ Frontman and these agendists are hoping that they can use Social Conservatives with Apocalyptic views, as their “Useful Dupe” voters in states like Iowa, while throwing them an occasional bone.

#9 Comment By Me33 On September 8, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

Romney may have no foreign experience, but Obama has no American experience, other than getting his college for free by being a foreign student. Obama has more experience in other countries than America. There was a reason the founding fathers of this country made such rules about being an American. They even wrote out their own relatives from becoming President because they knew the most important thing is to be born & raised here. Obama is the most frightening President this country has ever had.

#10 Comment By dSquib On September 8, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

Without wanting to indulge possible “birther” trolling, Barack Obama is a classic American politician and president, well within the political mainstream. Aggressively so. It is an ideology even, for him that is where wisdom lies.

I have no time for him personally, much as I had no time for Clinton or GWB, the other presidents I have been old enough to know while they were still in office.

Obama is only “the most frightening President this country has ever had” because he is the President NOW, and those who are dead or retired don’t tend to be very frightening.

#11 Comment By Tom Skene On September 8, 2012 @ 11:17 pm

Neither candidate needs a Foreign Policy …in regard to the M East for example…all our foreign policies are ready-made in Israel by Netanyahu and his crew with help from AIPAC in the US!
Israel Rules OK !!!

so who needs a foreign policy
Just ask the Lobby what they want…and hey presto…we have a policy!

#12 Comment By DLE On September 9, 2012 @ 9:14 am

If what I read is correct with the majority of W’s foreign policy advisors to populate Romney’s adminstration, he and Ryan’s lack of foreign policy experience is all the better for them.

#13 Comment By Jack Tracey On September 9, 2012 @ 9:20 am

Dem’s and “conservatives” like Larison are are trying to convince us that we are not faced with a referendum on Obama’s performance. They contend that we are faced with a choice between two candidates, and that Romney is the scariest choice.

If one looks at Larison’s man Obama’s legacy, one can see why. The Patriot Act is still in place. Gitmo, extraordinary rendition, assasination all continue. The TSA is becoming the entrenched, arrogant bureaucracy that we knew it would. We are not leaving Iraq or Afganistan; we’re outsourcing them. There is no wedding party in Central and Southwest Asia that is safe from UAV annihilation. Libya has been bombed. Iran has not been calmed. Russia has rearmed. Israel is still spying. China still owns (and makes) our shirts.

Add to all of this the true realization of state capitalism. The ACA will complete the takeover of the medical industry. The GM/Chrysler bailout proved private property, bankruptcy law, contractual responsibility and tax payer wishes are less important than buying favor with the nation’s largest corporations and their unions. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will complete the takeover of American money by the Federal Reserve– a private, government-chartered bank.

I hope and pray that Larison and the Dem’s are right. I would love to have choice.

#14 Comment By Sean Scallon On September 9, 2012 @ 10:16 am

Yeah, but here’s the thing Jack; if you vote for Romney you get all that you mentioned plus a war with Iran on top of that plus the same advisers from the Bush II Presidency.

Some choice.

It’s because there really is no difference between the two is why I’m voting for Goode or Johnson, depending on who is on the ballot in my home state. I’m sorry if other people can’t come to the same conclusion.

#15 Comment By jamie On September 9, 2012 @ 10:48 am

I don’t see how Obama is Dr. L’s man, he bends over backwards to avoid writing anything positive about him — the nicest thing he has to say about the president is that his critics are idiots. He’s made it abundantly clear that he believes the Democrats are wrong on foreign policy, but the Republicans are not even wrong.

(On this subject I’m curious to see if TAC will be endorsing a candidate.)

#16 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 9, 2012 @ 10:55 am

Re: endorsements, TAC is prohibited from making endorsements because of non-profit status, so the answer to that is definitely no.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: I consider most of Obama’s foreign policy to be mistaken. I spent the better part of a year criticizing his illegal war in Libya. I just referred to his Iran sanctions policy as cruel and useless. What I will say is that his Russia policy is an improvement over his predecessor’s, and it’s demonstrably better than his opponent’s, and his position on Syria, as far as I can tell, is not nearly as bad as it might be. The truth is that Romney is worse on all of these, and his preparation on foreign policy is woefully inadequate. I’ll keep saying that for as long as he is a candidate.

#17 Comment By EngineerScotty On September 9, 2012 @ 1:40 pm


On the assumption that Obama gets a “D” from you on foreign policy, and GWB a well-deserved “F”; what grades would you assign other Presidents? Feel free to go as far back as you care to…

#18 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 9, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

A distinction needs to be made between doing misguided things and presiding over major disasters. Obama has done many things I don’t agree with, but on the whole I don’t believe he has presided over a major disaster.

For instance, Reagan’s decision to intervene in Lebanon was a terrible one, but fortunately he acknowledged the mistake after the bombing and moved to correct it. That mistake had minimal consequences for the U.S. So that hurts Reagan’s record on foreign policy in my eyes, but not as much as more serious blunders, such as LBJ escalating the war in Vietnam or Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Thanks to that and other foolish things (e.g., Iran-Contra), Reagan probably deserves a C or C+.

Bearing that in mind, Obama (so far) and Clinton deserve Cs, the elder Bush deserves a B or maybe B+. Carter should get a D. Kennedy should get a C-. Nixon deserves a B-. Eisenhower deserves a B+. LBJ and Bush deserve Fs.

#19 Comment By Ken Hoop On September 9, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

Bill Bennett on MTP today says the GOP has nothing to be ashamed of from the Bush Era regards foreign policy-that “we won the Iraq War.”
Very ugly sentiment on a(nother) day of especially widespread violence in Iraq, committed by undefeated insurgencies.

Moreover, Maliki is helping Syria and Iran and refused to turn over 2 weeks ago a Hezbollah insurgent accused by the US of killing 5 US troops.

Some win, Bill Bennett. But as long as these
liars control foreign policy the US Empire is properly doomed.


#20 Comment By dSquib On September 9, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

Regarding Vietnam, believe Kennedy deserves almost as bad a mark as LBJ, maybe an E.

#21 Comment By dSquib On September 9, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

Regarding “winning”, US forces clearly overwhelmed Saddam’s, and those of the Taliban in Afghanistan, quickly toppling them. If that’s what floats one’s boat.

The ensuing “mission” in both countries has been an abject failure. But this is not something with a “winner” and therefore no loser either.

This ties in with those who fret over the US losing its “prestige” by leaving Iraq and Afghanistan. No one doubts the US would win a conventional war over any other force, if that’s what you desire. The US would not lose “prestige”, whatever that may be, if it did not continue to toil away in endless, unwinnable and pointless conflicts.

Bill Bennett is nuts though if he thinks he can rehabilitate the perception of the Iraq war this way, for though it was indeed shameful, there are plenty who are not what you would call ashamed, who are nevertheless angry that the US got involved and will continue to be.

#22 Comment By EngineerScotty On September 9, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

What would an “A” foreign policy look like?

#23 Comment By Jack Tracey On September 9, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

Sean, I’ve voted third party in two presidential elections since I reached voting age. Since I live in a state that is securely in one camp, I’ll probably do it again. However, those in battleground states do have to make a choice. Since there doesn’t appear to be a significant difference in direction, one must judge the incumbent on execution and results.

Also, I disagree that Romney’s election means we will “get all that” plus a new war.

Firstly, the MSM is inept, but it is also partisan, and the fear and anger caused by 9/11 is not the powerful force that is was in 2004. A war with Iran is not going to get the patriotic, home team coverage that Iraq and Afganistan got.

Secondly, Romney is committed to rolling back the ACA, which is a small step in the direction of liberty or at least in the direction of good old-fashioned local corruption.

By the way, keep up the good work. I’ve been reading you for a while, and I’ve enjoyed it.

#24 Comment By dSquib On September 9, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

“What would an “A” foreign policy look like?”


#25 Comment By Noah172 On September 9, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

What would an “A” foreign policy look like?

President Washington.

Patrick Buchanan’s A Republic, not an Empire.

#26 Comment By 3some On September 9, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

@Jack Tracey – “Dem’s and “conservatives” like Larison are are trying to convince us that we are not faced with a referendum on Obama’s performance. “

No doubt about it, we are faced with a referendum on Obama’s performance. And because of what Romney has said and done, and because of the people he has chosen to take part in his campaign, we are also faced with a referendum on G. W. Bush’s performance. The only sane thing to do is vote for someone other than Obama or Romney.

#27 Comment By Ayn On September 9, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

With 18-wheelers pulling up to their houses 24-7, delivering the profits from the bailouts and the war (don’t even think about those from the oil), the last thing Republicans want is to be in the White House, where the buck stops. They’d want it less today than they did in ’08, when they ran John McCain.

#28 Comment By EngineerScotty On September 9, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

With 18-wheelers pulling up to their houses 24-7, delivering the profits from the bailouts and the war (don’t even think about those from the oil), the last thing Republicans want is to be in the White House, where the buck stops. They’d want it less today than they did in ’08, when they ran John McCain.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in SuperPAC money says otherwise.

#29 Comment By CharleyCarp On September 9, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

I didn’t vote for him either time, but I’d give GHWB an A. I don’t think anyone else in my lifetime (born late Ike) would have handled the end of the Cold War as well.

I’d probably bump Carter up to a C as well. I don’t think he should be blamed for the Soviet intervention in support of their client in the Afghan civil war — which, anyway, seems to have worked to our advantage, in the long haul.

#30 Comment By Ayn On September 10, 2012 @ 6:50 am

EngineerScotty: “Hundreds of millions of dollars in SuperPAC money says otherwise.”

Advertisements, not unlike the floats one might see in any small-town’s 4th of July parade.

#31 Comment By cfountain72 On September 10, 2012 @ 10:55 am

Wait…GHWB gets a better grade than Reagan? I know there is reflexive desire to avoid heaping too much praise on Reagan, but he really helped set the stage for the greatest event in the second half of the 20th century: the essentially bloodless overthrow of the USSR and the resultant reduction of ICBM’s. It seems like there were many points in time where Reagan could have done things to inadvertently prolong that regime’s existence. Instead, he ignored many of the neocon calls for increased bellicosity, and used a credible balance of toughness, openness, and charisma in his work with Gorbachev. Hard to imagine who on the national stage today who would be as willing to actually ‘talk with the enemy’, and be as good at it. Factoring in the Iran/Contra crap, he has to deserve at least a B.

As far as GHWB’s A grade, do you view the Gulf War as an unalloyed good decision?

Peace be with you.

#32 Comment By cfountain72 On September 10, 2012 @ 11:02 am

Mr. Bennett seems to be missing the main point about ‘winning’ the Iraq War: it should have never happened to begin with!

Besides, if this is what spending $800B to get what we ‘won’ in Iraq looks like, I’m scared to hear what ‘losing’ would have looked like.

Peace be with you.