Romney Has Nothing to Win by Talking Foreign Policy

Besides pledging his unconditional support to the government of Israel and reiterating his willingness to use force against Iran, Mitt Romney didn’t actually offer foreign policy ideas in his speech this afternoon to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

What he did do, however, was denounce President Obama’s foreign policy in the strongest terms possible. In particular, he attacked the administration’s opposition to missile defense, its willingness to accommodate and work with Russia—which he has deemed our “number one geopolitical foe”—its unwillingness to take a belligerent stance towards Venezuela, and its refusal to intervene in uprisings across the Middle East, from the 2009 Green protests in Iran to the recent events in Egypt and Syria. He promised to take a hard stance against China, and presented Obama as an avatar for American decline and weakness:

I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might.

This is very simple: if you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your President. You have that President today.

Romney’s substantive problem is that his preferred outcomes would have involved significant American interventions across the globe, in countries ambivalent about or hostile to the United States. Romney’s promise to disregard the minimal caution of the Obama administration—which has been quite interventionist—is essentially a promise to embroil the U.S. in a greater number of costly conflicts. Romney is promising to repeat the performance of George W. Bush’s first term, which is a recipe for disaster.

As for his political problem, this speech might appeal to the Republican base—which still craves a belligerent foreign policy—but it’s absolutely alienating to the large bulk of the public, which doesn’t have an appetite for increased military spending or further intervention. Moreover, the public broadly supports Obama’s foreign policy decisions. In a May poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, 51 percent of Americans said they approved of Obama on foreign policy. Likewise, in a poll from the Associated Press, 64 percent and 53 percent said they approved of Obama’s handling of terrorism and Afghanistan, respectively. Moreover, the idea that Obama is “weak” just doesn’t ring true to most Americans, given the killing of both Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi.

The simple fact is that Romney has little to gain from highlighting foreign policy. His experience is nonexistent, and his belligerence—including his opposition to withdrawal from Iraq last year—leaves him open to a plethora of attacks from the Obama campaign. Put another way, the more Romney focuses on foreign policy, the more he puts himself in a position for Obama to question his fitness as a potential commander-in-chief.