Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Incredible Shrinking Mitt Romney

During a speech on foreign policy and the 2012 election in June, I noted that candidates had to pass the Commander in Chief test as a threshold issue to qualify them in the mind of the electorate to serve as President.  I then opined that I expected Mitt Romney to pass this threshold test -- I looked at him as a bright individual, who had been successful in business, a competent governor, and had succeeded on the international stage by hosting a strong Olympics.  Bill Clinton agreed - he said Romney's credentials were "impeccable."

Romney's commentary yesterday about the attacks on our embassies in Egypt and Libya (which were preceded by a botched international trip where he couldn't even avoid offending our closest ally and a convention speech that failed to even mention the ongoing conflict and troops on the ground in Afghanistan)  have raised the possibility that he will not pass the Commander in Chief test - thereby crippling his prospects of winning the presidency.

Not only did the Romney issue a statement well before all the facts were known, not only did he choose to engage in political combat on a day when U.S. diplomats were murdered abroad, not only did he falsely accuse the president of "apologizing" for America when it was the embassy that issued a statement trying to calm the Egyptian public's outrage at an inflammatory U.S. film, and not only did he get the chronology wrong (since the embassy statement came out before the embassy was breached) but after all this became abundantly apparent -- Romney decided to double down on his mistakes and hold a press conference to defend his statements.

Besides the poor taste in holding a political press conference to attack the President when our embassies had been attacked, the substance of Romney's comments indicate that he just may be beyond his depth when talking about foreign policy.  His critique of Obama's actions during this crisis and Obama's overall approach to foreign policy is entirely vapid.

On the crisis - all he could say is that we should never apologize for American values.  Really? Is a film that impugns the holy prophet of 1.2 billion people around the globe an "American value."  Surely free speech is an American value - but others around the globe certainly have an equal right to be offended by the content of American speech.   President Obama said America "rejects efforts to denigrate the religion of others."  Was this too a sign of weakness?  An apology for American values?  Respect for religion is an American value - so what was Romney saying was an inappropriate "apology."

But far worse is Romney's critique of Obama's approach to foreign policy which sounds like a series of bumper sticker slogans devoid of content.   His main concern is "a lack of clarity."  Romney says his foreign policy has three branches - it is worth looking at the exact words:  

"First, confidence in our cause, a recognition that the principles America was based upon are something we [don't] shrink from or apologize for; that we stand for that principles... 

"The second is clarity in our purpose, which is that when we have a foreign policy objective, we describe it honestly and clearly to the American people, to Congress and to the people of the world...

"And number three, is resolve in our might: ... where we decide it's essential for us to apply military might, that we do so with overwhelming force, that we do so in the clarity of a mission, understanding the nature of the U.S. interest involved, understanding when the mission will be complete, what will be left ... behind us when that mission has been terminated."

This is a foreign policy?  On issue after issue - there is never any content to the critique.  What should we have been doing differently in Egypt?  Or Libya?  Apparently the answer to every question like this is "Show leadership, act with resolve, express our values with clarity. "  Like his approach to how we should deal with Afghanistan, Romney has said virtually nothing of substance on what specific things he would have done differently than Obama with respect to the Arab Spring or what he would do if he became president. Romney's view on the Arab Spring?  "We must strive to ensure that the Arab spring does not become an Arab winter." Now there is confidence, clarity, and resolve.  

Why has Romney's foreign policy performance been so unimpressive?  American voters may well start coming to the conclusion that this smart, competent man really does not understand the modern world very well, has not put much thought into how American interests can be advanced in the complicated circumstances of the 21st century, and does not have the background, experience or knowledge necessary to think on his feet on these topics.  If he cannot reverse this building impression -- he will not be the next president.


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