Tag: Mitt Romney

Joss Whedon on Romney and Zombies

What?? It was too good to resist… Continue reading

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Trans-Partisan Challenge

My daughter is very anxious that Mitt Romney might win the election. Before that she was worried about the European monetary crisis and what might happen if Greece defaults. This suggest that the problem is less one of our partisanship than of growing up the kid of international-affairs specialists who listen to the news during the morning commute.

Regardless, her anxiety suggested it was time for “the talk.” We’d already had the “Republicans are good people” talk. It went something like this: “your grandfather is a Republican, and he’s a wonderful human being. We just disagree on what’s best for the country. And whether your schoolfriend’s mommies can choose to get married.” So this time we explained that the parties periodically switch control over various branches of government, they do good things and bad things, and life goes on.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the “good things and bad things” part of the discussion. So here’s my challenge:  can you identify a policy where the “other side” is likely to do better?

In other words, if you’re pro-Obama, tell us about a positive change that a Romney administration is likely to make in US policy. If you’re pro-Romney, identify something that Obama did right and that Romney would mess up. If you’re one of those third-party types, probably best to skip this one.

My answer is below the fold.

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What’s Most Distressing about the Leaked Romney Video

Just like Barack Obama in 2008, Mitt Romney apparently believes the silly theories of partisan preference popular among his base. Or he’s craven enough to peddle the argument to his donors. Neither is good news.

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Inside the Bubble, Round II

Richard Grenell was pushed out as Mitt Romney’s national-security spokesman. In The Daily Beast, he attempts to defend his former boss.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got it right. The Middle East desk at the State Department got it right, too. And so did Mitt Romney. All three correctly rejected the initial Cairo Embassy statement on the developing violence in Egypt and Libya as weak and inappropriate. And yet Romney was the only one to become the focus of media ire for it.

Again with “the media.” That horrible, terrible, no-good lamestream liberal media that also appeared in Erik Erikson’s evasive blame-the-messenger defense of Romney. And just how palpable is their double standard? Here’s Mitt Romney’s statement:

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Romney said in the statement. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Here’s Secretary Clinton’s:

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack. 

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation. 

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. 

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.

As you can see, they are identical. Both characterize the US embassy statement as “sympathizing” with  the attackers. Both characterize that statement as the official position of the Obama Administration.

Okay, maybe Grenell’s talking about the actual remarks that disowned the US embassy statement. Like President Obama’s…. Right. He didn’t actually do so in his official remarks. Well, what about his 60 minutes remarks?

In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn’t come from me, it didn’t come from Secretary Clinton. It came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger,” Obama said. “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.

Okay. So maybe Grenell is referring to reports that numerous people inside the Executive Branch were angry about the statement, e.g.,

“People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content,” the official said. “Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn’t provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about ‘continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'”

You see, exactly the same thing as claiming that theObama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks…” but to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

But what else would you expect, argues Grenell, from the aforementioned liberal media?

The mainstream media has so far failed to ask persistent and tough questions of the State Department or the White House. In fact, NPR’s Romney campaign correspondent, Ari Shapiro, and CBS News’ Romney campaign correspondent, Jan Crawford, were caught on tape minutes before Romney’s press conference conspiring to trap him. Why had reporters like Shapiro and Crawford not tried to get the real story? Why were they following the Obama campaign’s playbook?

Evidence? You want evidence of this fiendish trap? Why here it is:

Off camera, you can hear CBS’s Crawford strategizing:

JAN CRAWFORD: That’s the question….Yeah that’s the question. I would just say do you regret your question.
ARI SHAPIRO, NPR: Your question? Your statement?
CRAWFORD: I mean your statement. Not even your tone, because then he can go off on –
SHAPIRO: And then if he does, I think we can just follow up and say ‘but this morning your answer is continuing to sound’ –

Then the feed is cut off. Crawford later added, “No matter who he calls on, we’re covered on the one question.” A man who is not Shapiro states, “Do you stand by your statement or regret your statement?”

Even Tim Graham at Newsbusters admits that there’s nothing really wrong with reporters collaborating to make sure that Romney answers a specific question. He (correctly) suggests that it would have been more appropriate to focus on substantive policy — what Romney would do diff… differ… different… look, I’m sorry, but….

… frack yes, it would be AWESOME if the media made Romney provide detailed policy ALTERNATIVES. I mean, have you seen the Mitt Romney official campaign site? The Iran policy is basically the same as the current policy. Seriously. Except that he “reserves” the right to go back to the inferior “third site” BMD option. The Middle East proposal is to create a we-won’t-call-it-a-Czar-Czar for the region — and it isn’t a Czar because it will have authorities that strike conservatives as even more extra-constitutional than what they’ve been after Obama for! Okay. Look, I know it isn’t fair to pick on campaign sites, but this is a candidate who believes specifics are for ordinary working people… 

Anyway, what was I writing? Graham’s fallback argument is that there’s nothing per se wrong with this coordination except that the liberal media are biased and liberal and stuff… because Clinton.

Been an interesting day. At least Obama’s “this is crazy, but Egypt an ally? Call it, maybe?“* line will introduce some new wrinkles into the narrative.

*I sure hope this is the kind of mixed-message signaling designed to “warn” another regime in an ambiguous way. How boring if it just turns out to be a “gaffe.” 

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How did he screw this up so badly?

I don’t really want to pile on, but the question for me is: how does a major presidential candidate in the 21st century (and a guy who has been running for office now for seven straight years) screw this up so badly?

As a resident of Massachusetts, I watched Romney as governor, he wasn’t a disaster and I don’t think he ever displayed the level of incompetence that we’ve seen recently. So what’s going on?

I’ve been pondering this with various Massachusetts political analysts/friends over the past day, here’s what I see:

As governor, Romney’s staff was small and most decisions were made within a tight-knit group of advisers. He governed a state in which the Democrats held both houses of the legislature with overwhelming, veto-proof, majorities. Given the constraints, he took risks, often made quick judgments, and went straight to the cameras in an effort to get out ahead of slower, entrenched Democratic Party leadership. He also vetoed more than 800 bills — almost all of which were overturned.

He’s now been running for office for nearly seven straight years and he’s developed a campaign organization, and strategy that is similar to his governor’s staff with its emphasis on “efficiency,” streamlined decisionmaking, and quick response. He relies heavily on a small group of core political (not policy) advisors and his world is about rapid reaction, getting out in the lead, and staying ahead in instantaneous news cycles. Nuance and complexity don’t fit. Wonky candidates are seen as indecisive — Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis — and they lose. Every talking point is carefully crafted to resonate in the politico echo-chamber. Romney disdains Obama and the complexity of Obama’s policy because he’s spent the past four years creating fictions and simple caricatures.

But there are risks to this style of campaign — the message lacks depth and the process lacks checks.

This hasn’t been a problem on most domestic issues where Romney has experience and a certain comfort zone — he can pivot and fill in substantive gaps on policy when confronted by journalists or potential voters on the campaign trail. But the risks are exposed on foreign policy where he has no real experience to ground or contextualize the talking points and the simple caricatures he’s constructed. He still doesn’t have a weighty foreign policy expert traveling with him on a daily bais who can provide a check on the substantive side. His initial statement on the Libya events and the doubling down on that statement appear to have come without consultation with a wider group of foreign policy thinkers within the party. He and his campaign didn’t appear to contemplate that there might be uncertainty about the fast moving events. They didn’t appear to comprehend the complexity of the situation. They didn’t appear to understand the potential reaction to their rapid political response to a tragedy.

I don’t think Romney’s glaring mistake here was that he shot from the hip. I think it goes deeper. Here’s a guy (and a campaign) who is clearly thin on national security and foreign policy; a guy who has made a number of mistakes in the past two months — the fiasco of his highly touted foreign tour, the bizarre neglect of any mention of veterans or the war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech, and now this. Yet, neither Romney nor his inner circle seem to have acknowledged their weakness — even to themselves. This is what I find most troubling — the inability to self-reflect, to acknowledge a mistake (even if the acknowledgment is purely internal) and to fix a glaring weakness. It’s a failure of the candidate, it’s a failure of his inner circle, it’s a failure of the campaign’s organizational structure, and it’s all too close to George W. Bush for my taste.

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All Mitt Romney Really Needed To Know He Never Learned In Kindergarten

This is actually a pretty good checklist.

I’m busy with other projects–dissertating, researching, and watching Breaking Bad, in ascending order–but I wanted to point out that the problem with Mitt Romney’s statement about the attacks on Americans in Libya and Egypt is not what it tells us about foreign policy. We know very little about Romney’s foreign policy views, and it is possible that Romney himself hasn’t thought deeply about the it. (Indeed, my gut feeling informed intuition  has long been that most American presidents simply don’t have well-informed views on things like military intervention before they take office.)

The problem with Romney’s statement is that it was a poorly-chosen, poorly-timed message.

For all his presentation as a cautious businessman, Romney has consistently shown that he has little idea how to sell himself in person. True, he has good instincts about how to market himself–stay away from the media, keep the campaign largely on message, don’t worry about temporary roadblocks like Herman Cain–but that is entirely different from being a good spokesman on his own behalf.

Yet unlike a native politician, such as Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, or whoever is running for sheriff in your county this year, Romney lacks the finely honed filter that prevents him from unintentionally saying really dumb stuff.


The “two Cadillacs” gaffe, the “I like firing people” quote, that some-of-my-best-friends-are-NASCAR-owners slip–they are all qualitatively different from Obama’s worst verbal errors (“you didn’t build that” and, I guess, the “57 states” things), which are the products of fatigue and temporarily verbal confusion. By contrast, Romney’s slips have  comported with what many people (including, lest we forget, a substantial majority of Republican primary voters) thought he is: a distant plutocrat who’s only honest when he isn’t paying attention.

The most recent statement, which pretty blatantly politicized a moment of national grief, added a newer, sinister dimension to this image. Instead of Romney-as-clueless-Richie-Rich, we now have Mitt-the-Machiavelli, whose only thought is how the deaths of dedicated public servants affect his campaign. That this was not a slip of the tongue but the product of the campaign’s top strategists and, allegedly, the candidate himself speaks volumes about how the candidate sees himself. But it says nothing about how he sees the United States and its role abroad.

Late Update: I wanted to clarify the post’s relationship to its title. Why is Romney’s statement such a problem? It’s not that it’s part of a well-thought-out philosophy of “not apologizing” (both because the timing was wrong to release that critique, and because the philosophy is not well-thought out), as David Weigel at Slate implies. Rather, it’s that it shows that Romney may actually lack the kind of empathy that we normally presume that presidential candidates have. To be blunt, Romney may in fact be less empathetic than Nixon, whose career (as Rick Perlstein and others have argued) was in part driven by resentment at the slights, real and perceived, that the Establishment committed against the ordinary striver. This may not, in some grand philosophical sense, disqualify one from the presidency, but it normally disqualifies you from being a presidential candidate.

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Inside the Bubble

Erik Erikson’s full-throated attack on the US media and Obama is getting bounced around the right-wing twitter-verse today.  For those of us who aren’t part of that universe, it provides an interesting glimpse inside the bubble.

It begins thus:

Yesterday, as the American consulate in Libya was smoking and the rioters were returning in Egypt, the President of the United States flew off to Las Vegas for a fundraiser while his spokesman was telling the American press corps that yesterday wasn’t really a normal political day. Had it been George W. Bush, the media would, right now, be marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches.

Should Obama have suspended his campaign on September 12th? In the absence of any major foreign-policy decisions, I don’t really understand the argument here. And I don’t see how anyone who lived through the Bush presidency can say, with a straight face, that “the media would have been marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches” under similar circumstances.

He continues:

I get that Chuck Todd is a former Democrat hill staffer. I get that the Politico is riddled with Democrats, some former activists and a former staffer for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I get that Michael Scherer from Time magazine is a left wing reporter for Mother Jones and Salon.com turned respectable, “objective” journalist. I get that Ben Smith, leading up Buzz Feed, is a leftwing journalist paraded about as if he is some sort of objective reporter at a trendy site full of cat photos. What I really get is that the American media runs with a herd mentality, leans left, and yesterday collectively fell over their group think as they leaned so far left to focus on Mitt Romney and not President Obama. Yesterday, the American media beclowned itself in ways I didn’t really even think was possible, even knowing how in the tank for Barack Obama they are.

Of course, it wasn’t just “the media” that was shocked and appalled by Romney’s disingenuous opportunism.

Yesterday, we learned that there were no Marines protecting our Ambassador to Libya despite State Department warnings about violence and kidnappings in the Benghazi. We already knew Al Qaeda was coming on strong there. But we relied on locals for support and now we know the locals betrayed us as they have in the past in Afghanistan and Iraq too. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Speaking of “the media,” both of these links go to posts at Breitbart.com. Both of those posts are riffs on…. wait for it…. mainstream media reporting. Anyway, according to google news there were 71,500 English-language stories that mentioned “Egypt OR Libya” and “Embassy OR Consulate.” Of those, 47,800 did not include the word “Romney.” A quick browse suggests that the ~60% of the stories mentioning Romney simply included a reference to his campaign statement condemning the attacks and the Obama Administration. Note that the Romney campaign issued its condemnations with the aim of getting them included in stories about the attacks.

Is 60% too much of a focus on Romney? That’s a subjective judgment. I tend to think that the answer is “yes,” but I’m also convinced that if the media had ignored Romney’s campaign statements then Republicans would be crying foul. No, what Erikson is actually upset about — and this is clear from his rundown of biased reporters — is that the political media focused on Romney.

Let’s repeat that again: the political media focused on Romney. Chuck Todd is not a Middle East reporter. Politico’s main goal is to call who “won the morning” in American politics. Ben Smith’s gig at buzzfeed? Definitely not “foreign correspondent.” These people were doing their jobs. Now, you and I may not think much of the inordinate attention that they get. I’d prefer that we focused more on foreign affairs qua foreign affairs. But I suspect Erikson wouldn’t have been at all upset if these same people had been lambasting Obama for his “poor handling” of attacks. Scratch that: I’m almost certain he’d been dancing with glee.

Why am I certain? Because his next line is:

Night before last, the President condemned Mitt Romney in harsher tones than he condemned the rioters. It took him until sun up yesterday to condemn them.

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

And, of course, the link is to Breitbart (linking to Talking Points Memo). The TPM story says no such thing. It covers Secretary of State Clinton, who is, I should remind readers, speaking on behalf of the US government, condemning the attacks. Here’s Clinton:

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack. 

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation. 

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. 

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.”

 It also reports the following:

Mitt Romney seized on the embassy attacks as an opportunity to condemn Obama’s “disgraceful” handling of the situation in a statement late Tuesday. Despite the embassy’s assertion that its statement was drafted before protests began, Romney slammed the White House for turning to apologies as the “first response” to violence. 

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” 

That didn’t sit well with the Obama campaign, who accused Romney of exploiting the crisis for electoral gain. 

“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” Obama’s campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

Are the tones used by the Obama campaign harsher than those used by Secretary Clinton? You can judge for yourself. The important point, however, is this: “Obama campaign,” “President Obama,” and “Secretary of State Clinton” are not the same things. Indeed, the idea that there’s something wrong with the Obama campaign responding to an attack by the Romney campaign prior to the President’s own official statement is rather bizarre.

Obama’s official statement, which came yesterday, carried no mention of Mitt Romney. Obama’s comment on his rival’s statements was, in fact, rather terse.

Back to Erikson:

Yesterday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a man who swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, called an American civilian to ask him to stop exercising his first amendment rights. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

I’m well into tl;dr territory, so I’ll just point out that unless Dempsey threatened Jones, there’s nothing unusual about what he did — nor anything unconstitutional.

We also now know that the President, close to 60% of the time, has opted for printed intelligence briefings, which this White House thinks are as useful as an intelligence officer in the room who the President can probe, prod, challenge, and question. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Written briefings convey information much more quickly than verbal ones. I’m also sure that if the President wants to “probe, prod, challenge, and question” intelligence reports, he has ways of doing this that don’t involve having a briefer in the room. Those ways might even be more effective, as briefers will never be experts on every aspect of intelligence in the PDB.

And in focusing on Mitt Romney, finally, of all the places, Slate and Dave Weigel finally point out that Mitt Romney’s gaffe was no gaffe, it was a consistent view of foreign policy foreign to the ears of the political press. He, I, and many others really do think Barack Obama is an apologist. We really do think his speech to Cairo after his entrance to the White House was part of a world apology tour. And we sure as hell think his actions in the past year to foster the Arab Spring were the actions of a naive fool.

But then the media has been playing the naive fool for him.

Uh. Ok. Even if the term”gaffe” was a central part of the criticisms being leveled at Romney — and, of course it is not — I don’t think Weigel’s column means what Erikson wants it to mean.

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The Triumph of Liberal Internationalism?

Robert Golan-Viella reflects on a tectonic shift in partisan foreign-policy debate, i.e., the fact that the Democrats have the upper hand. He chalks this up to campaign politics: the key to a Republican victory runs through the economy. I agree that there are “strong critiques” of Obama foreign policy and that “leading Republicans aren’t making them.” But I don’t think this is “politically smart,” insofar as leading Republicans are making attacks on Obama foreign policy–just not very good ones.

As Blake Hounshell noted on twitter of the latest broadside from the Romney campaign:

I expect that I will return to this theme on a number of future occasions, but I should note that this is something quite similar to what’s been happening on the domestic politics front.

While there’s plenty of room to eviscerate Obama, the Republicans have painted themselves into an ideological corner from which they’re forced to make a lot of deeply questionable claims. This is what happens when you’ve convinced your base that the label “socialist” is broad enough to include a center-right President whose major domestic initiatives — national Romneycare, a tax-cut and infrastructure oriented stimulus, a cap-and-trade approach to reducing carbon emissions — were mainstream Republican positions only four years ago.

Indeed, the fact is that Obama foreign policy doesn’t look that much different from what Bush was doing in the later part of his second term. Sure, the Obama Administration cancelled an inferior BMD program and replaced it with a better one (props to Sean Kay for that phrasing). But on Iraq and Afghanistan Obama largely followed the path developed toward the end of the Bush administration. Even its position on Iran is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Obama’s more explicit offer to engage with Iran  highlighted Teheran’s intransigence; to the extent that it “worked,” it did so by generating greater international support for tougher sanctions — it convinced other countries to get behind preexisting US policy. Even the “Israel” issue is often more about style than substance (cf. Erik Voeten on the status of Jerusalem).
In that sense, it isn’t surprising that Russia has become a focal point. The “reset” policy really was a break from Bush foreign policy. On the one hand, though, that “break” has worked to secure Bush administration objectives, such as expanded transit routes to Afghanistan via Russian territory. On the other hand, we can imagine that McCain administration might have been much more aggressive on Georgia and not have pursued New START. I can see a case for recalibration of the US policy toward Tbilisi, but August 2008 pretty much revealed the limitations of full-throttle support for Georgia.
Nuclear-weapons policy, however, provides an opening for real attack on the Obama Administration. But once again, we’re not getting substantive criticism about nuclear doctrine but rather blog-serious level discourse about selling out US interests to Moscow on BMD and the aggregate size of the US nuclear arsenal. Recall that US-Russians relations have deteriorated lately precisely because Washington won’t capitulate to Moscow on matters such as Syria policy or EPAA.

One lesson of this, I think, was that we didn’t need all of that “security Democrat” handwringing during the first five years after 9/11. Remember all those people who were in a tizzy about how liberals and progressives needed to come up with “new thinking” to respond to the neoconservative challenge? That all looks pretty silly now. The Obama Administration’s foreign policy fits pretty squarely within the broad liberal-internationalist tradition, albeit with, on some issues, a significant lean toward its “pragmatic realist” variant. Indeed, with a few exceptions — such as the aforementioned disaster that was US policy toward Georgia — the Bush administration basically abandoned neo-conservativism after the 2006 midterms.

That’s not to say that we won’t get another taste of neoconservative crusading bluster if Romney wins. My guess is that his impulses aren’t in that direction, but foreign-policy novices often go where their advisors take them. But I think what the record of the past two decades suggests is pretty clear: Republican and Democratic foreign-policy centrists never needed to “rethink” anything. Their ideas have acquitted themselves quite well. Neo-Reaganite foreign policy? Not so much. 

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An Analysis of the Foreign-Policy Content of Romney’s Convention Speech

Here is a word cloud of the speech’s foreign-policy content:

In this case, the cloud adds virtually nothing to our understanding, as the entire section is only 202 words long.

Below is the section itself. It appears that the speechwriters pulled random posts off of PJ Media, stuck them in a blender, and were satisfied with the results.

I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators. 

Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden. But on another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat. 

In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning. 

President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro’s Cuba. He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election. Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone. 

We will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world. This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again.

As some have noted, the section is particularly notable for the absence of Afghanistan. That’s correct. The US is currently fighting a war and it rated not a single mention in the speech of the GOP nominee for President. We are through the looking glass, people.

Despite my snide comments, I think there’s an important debate to be had over how the Washington calibrates its relationship with Moscow. But what worries me about Romney is that the only setting seems to be ‘major geo-political threat,‘ which overestimates both Russian strength and US weakness while foreclosing opportunities for cooperation based on mutual interest. Such an approach won’t lead Russia to change any of the policies that nettle US policymakers, and may make Moscow even more difficult to deal with. We’ve been there and done that in the second Bush term, and it didn’t work out well for anyone.

The Romney team also have a point about Poland. The administration botched the rollout of PHAAD and the cancellation of the “third site” BMD program. Warsaw was, in fact, pretty upset. But that was three years ago; I’m not sure why “No-Apologies Mitt” feels compelled to keep on apologizing for it. Still, I am not entirely clear on why the administration continues to negotiate with Moscow on BMD beyond the theory that it is better to keep them talking even as the program goes forward.

Romney’s inadequate genuflections toward foreign-policy issues reflect their marginal place in this campaign. What little we’ve learned suggests a factually-challenged view of the Obama Administration’s foreign-policy rhetoric. It also appears to signal a commitment to the views that captured Bush foreign policy after September 11, 2001.

Neither of these are good things, but they don’t necessarily tell us much about how Romney will lead the United States in the world. As PTJ and I recently discussed, this is more about value articulation and commitment than substantive policy… which pretty much sums up not only Romney’s speech but also the general idiom of a campaign loathe to focus on programatic details.

In some ways, the most momentous foreign-policy line was Romney’s applause-line on climate change.

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans. And to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.

At one level, this was a pretty good dig at Obama: it nicely crystalized the idea that Obama promised the moon but delivered a eight-percent unemployment rate. But it also signposts one of the most consequential ways that we’ve failed our children — and the important role played by the modern Republican party in that failure. Perhaps, if elected, Romney will be able to move his party to where he stood but a few years ago. If so, that will outweigh a great deal.

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Least Experienced Foreign Policy Ticket — Ever?

One of the defining features of the current era of globalization is the rise in uncertainty and complexity in global politics. There are more actors, more transactions, and more challenges as a result. In the face of this, the United States continues to spend more on national security – the military, intelligence, and homeland security – than almost all other countries in the world combined. And, yet it’s clear that as the world is becoming increasingly more complex, the United States’ ability to influence outcomes – as demonstrated by the Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global economic crisis among other issues – is clearly constrained.

Despite this, the Republican Party has just put forward one of the least experienced national security tickets by a major political party in history. With the possible exception of Harding/Coolidge in 1920, it’s hard to name a ticket in history that has less knowledge, practical experience, or specific, articulated vision of national security and global affairs than this one does. The general rule has long been that if the Presidential nominee has limited experience, he has chosen a running mate to offset the deficit. Romney didn’t do that.

I’m not suggesting that this means a Romney/Ryan administration would be a failure – we’ve had plenty of disasters with highly experienced Presidents and Vice Presidents. It’s just that going in to the fall, their combined lack of experience means that there are a lot of conflicting interpretations of Romney’s (and Ryan’s) worldview. Some have suggested that Romney and Ryan are close to traditional Republican internationalists, others don’t see any real gap between Romney and Obama, while others see the team as becoming more aligned with neoconservativism. Even conservatives – in their many shapes – disagree on what Romney and Ryan stand for.

So what might all this mean?


I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Saunders Leaders At War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions and Stephen G. Walker and Akan Malici’s U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy Mistakes. Both books revisit the extensive literature on psychology and foreign policy and remind us of the importance of leaders’ perceptions and beliefs in their foreign policy decisionmaking. Saunders argues that how presidents decide when and where to use force and how to use that force comes from their interpretations of the origin and nature of threats. If the threat is seen as internal – inherent in the regime — she finds that presidents are inclined to use force for ambitious strategies such as regime change. If a president sees threats as emanating from the international or regional security environment, force is likely to be used to advanced a more restricted vision of strategic interests, but not regime change. For her, how a president interprets threat comes from the president’s deeper causal beliefs about the nature and source of power and history – much of which she argues can be discerned from analysis of the president’s belief systems prior to coming into office.

Smith and Malici similarly focus on the role of leaders’ belief systems and argue that most foreign policy mistakes occur when leaders misperceive the “power relationship between self and others” which “leads to mistaken calculations of costs and benefits regarding alternative strategies of statecraft and thereby to policy failures.” Again, leaders often cue the decisionmaking biases and the mistakes to which they are prone through their world views and causal belief systems.

If we think about these arguments with respect to the Romney/Ryan ticket we’re left with a puzzle: With their limited combined track record, we don’t really know what they believe.

To be sure, Romney clearly has given us a lot of platitudes in his speeches: “I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country.” And, both Romney and Ryan support the general Republican fare on American exceptionalism and that the U.S. military budgets need to be stronger, Israel needs more support, and Obama is weak.

But it’s not clear what these really mean or how their various speeches, or in the case of Paul Ryan his Congressional votes are likely to translate into specific, real-world policy responses to the global challenges out there.

Romney has been running for office for seven years now. Yet, in both the 2008 and the 2012 campaign, Romney has really tacked away from foreign policy discussions – he hardly mentioned the Iraq War in 2008, today he hardly mentions the war in Afghanistan. His October 2011 policy paper and his August VFW speech emphasize American exceptionalism and the potential challenges associated with China’s rise and with Russia, but aside from the elevated rhetoric it’s not clear what would be different on Iran, Russia, or China. We haven’t heard him articulate a position on what should be done in Syria. If we consider all of his promises and speeches, it’s not clear what we really get.

His highly touted foreign trip in July was, with all due respect, astonishingly amateurish. And, his more recent gaffe on Japan suggests that both the candidate and the campaign are still struggling with basic diplomatic and rhetorical protocols.

Much of the problem is that foreign policy and national security have been an afterthought for Romney. This isn’t really a surprise – we all know that this election will turn on the economy and his experience and skill set play to his vision for changes in U.S. economic policy.

But it is striking at how he’s essentially conceded the issue — at least to date. Organizationally, his campaign staff runs the day-to-day management of foreign policy development. He does not have an established, senior foreign policy advisor traveling with him, advising him on a daily basis or talking to the press. As a result, the organization, the substance, the message, and the candidate have lacked cohesion and vision.

He isn’t helped by the intra-party feuding that continues within the Republican Party. Romney’s campaign has assembled a broad circle of advisers that includes neoconservatives and Republican internationalists. Their only reported joint meeting apparently ended in an argument about the future of Afghanistan. The campaign’s response was that Romney encourages active debate among his advisers. But, George W. Bush lost control of his national security decisionmaking process because he wasn’t able to control the feuding between the two camps.

It recent weeks it appears that when push has come to shove between these camps – which it almost always does – Romney and his campaign are turning more and more to the “Cheneyites” and the neocons. His selection of Robert Zoellick last week was seen by some as a measured response to the wavering ship – to add some foreign policy heft and traditional Republican internationalist moderation to the foreign policy team, but the announcement was met with such intense and critical push-back from the neocons that the campaign went to great lengths to portray Zoellick as simply helping with the normal pre-election transition vetting process and to re-assure the critics that there is a firewall between Zoellick and the campaign’s policy development.

So we are left with this. As we enter the fall campaign, Romney’s foreign policy views are being shaped not by a coherent, long-standing world-view or causal beliefs about the nature of power, the utility of force, or the nature and source of threats, but by political expediency. His foreign policy views appear to be emerging out of campaign strategy – with the singular goal of distancing himself from President Obama. The gist of all of this is that we really don’t know what we are likely to get. Would a Romney/Ryan administration embrace the neocons’ view of the world – with their focus on the ubiquity of existential threats, their belief in the efficacy and utility of force, and their ambitions for U.S. support for regime change in places like Iran and Syria? Or would a Romney/Ryan administration be more likely to embrace more traditional Republic internationalism relying on existing institutions and a wider range of instruments of statecraft to manage American interests?

All things considered, and in light of the foreign policy mistakes over the past decade and the challenges that lie ahead, these are pretty big questions to still be lingering this late in a campaign.

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