Washington: Mitt Romney needs a booster shot on foreign policy and soon. Or his struggle to articulate an alternative worldview to differentiate himself from Barack Obama will remain just that — a struggle.
It is true that he has little to work with — Obama has skillfully taken traditional Republican positions and married them to Democratic planks leaving Romney only space to tinker around the edges. For the first time perhaps in recent history, a Republican candidate can’t paint a Democrat as soft on national security because of three words — Osama bin Laden. Obama has more than earned his “tough guy” badge with that one.
This has become so frustrating for Romney that he is reduced to flailing against the “leaks” about the Osama raid, saying they compromised security. He even demanded a special investigation on the leaks in his “foreign policy” speech. Really?
To be sure, foreign policy issues won’t decide the presidential election, the economy will but this was “foreign policy” week with both candidates fleshing out their ideas about the world. Romney then left on a three-nation tour to pick up some credentials in Britain, Israel and Poland. And immediately got bogged down in flubs. Someone from his campaign told a British newspaper that Romney understands Britain better because of a shared “Anglo-Saxon” heritage. Charges of racism flew.
No sooner did he land in London, he insulted his hosts by calling the Olympic preparations “disconcerting.” Prime Minister David Cameron couldn’t resist making a dig about how he is holding the games in one of “the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world” and not “in the middle of nowhere” — a reference to Salt Lake City, where Romney was in charge of the games.
You wonder who is advising him on optics but the Romney team decided to collect some money while traveling. In these times of great financial, banking, LIBOR scandals, Romney has two fund-raisers planned with hedge fund managers, bankers and other 1 percenters in London at $25,000 to $75,000 per person. Wait for stories of the tainted who’s who to trickle out. Another is planned for Israel at $50,000 a couple.
So far the presumptive Republican nominee’s foreign policy musings have been short on details and heavy on rhetoric. Romney’s comments implying that he may not have a national security meeting in the first 100 days so that he can concentrate on the economy have earned him ridicule even from Republican thinkers. A candidate who says he wants to forget the world for that long displays a frightening kind of ignorance. Perhaps he should run for treasury secretary instead.
When Romney does talk about specific international issues, he sounds like a confused version of Obama. On Afghanistan, he has accused Obama of compromising national security by making politically motivated decisions. He was referring to the draw down of US troops on a fixed time-table. So what will Romney do? Nothing very different, it turns out. He will keep his date with 2014 except he would order a “review.” This is called lame.
Romney knows he can’t “accuse” Obama of ending the war, a deeply unpopular enterprise with the American people. He can’t “scare” the people into prolonging it as Dick Cheney used to because with the killing of bin Laden, 9/11 has been largely avenged in the national psyche.
When he does the tough act, he sounds hopelessly from another age. Earlier this year he called Russia the “number one geopolitical foe” of the United States. Someone should tell him the Cold War is over and Russia has been helping the US get supplies to Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network while Pakistan shut down the main supply route. A new START agreement has been signed and Russia has cooperated on Iran and Syria to an extent, stopping supplies of heavy arms.
On Iran and its nuclear programme, Romney boasted recently that Teheran wouldn’t have the bomb if he were president. “I will be willing to take military action,” he has said. His adviser, Rich Williamson reiterated at a Brookings event on Wednesday that his candidate would allow “zero” enrichment of uranium. This vigour is coming from John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and an off-kilter hawk widely hated by the US bureaucracy when imposed from above by two Republican presidents. Watch out world, his name is floating as a possible secretary of state for Romney.
Romney has a confrontationist attitude toward China as well, forgetting who’s your ultimate banker. He wants to declare China a “currency manipulator” as soon as he takes his oath. Apart from this one detail, all his policy prescriptions for China — maintaining a robust posture in the Pacific to ensure open trade routes, deepen cooperation with India and Indonesia, and defend human rights — are already part of Obama’s strategy.
Small wonder that a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll gave Obama a 15-point lead on handling of foreign policy. But Romney can still bank on a slow recovery and impatience of the voters.