I wish I had finished this post before Romney's campaign imploded the night of September 11 and day of September 12, because I would have said before that foreign policy and national security were now Democratic issues. Romney is certainly helping to cement that, but it's been the case for a few years. Republicans blew an advantage they had held since the debacle of Vietnam the only way they could, with their own debacle, but really they just created an opportunity. Democrats had to take advantage, which they mostly have, with Republicans helping by continuing to screw up. Democrats used to be advised to keep to domestic issues and avoid foreign policy if possible, and if they couldn't avoid it, try to look as tough as the Republicans. Vote for all military actions and new weapons systems, just so your opponent can't use your weakness against you. Those days are gone. If Republicans want to run on foreign policy, let them. If they can't figure out this isn't their issue anymore, good. Democrats need to try to make this the campaign issue.
When I say this is only partly about Romney, I date the shift to 2004. The charges against Iraq weren't holding up with the US occupying Iraq and being able to look anywhere at anything they wanted, and the awful truth that the charges of WMDs and working with Al Qaida were bogus was dawning on us. The 911 commission report showed the Bush administration had bungled anything that might have stopped 911, so no wonder they tried to stop the commission from being formed and interfered with its investigation. Yes, Bush won the 2004 election anyway (probably, but that's another story) which isn't surprising, despite the damning commission report, because never in US history has an incumbent president lost when the country was at war, no matter how badly it was going. I strongly suspect the reputational damage was done though.
So when the 2006 elections were partly about Iraq, that was the first time since Vietnam when Democrats could run on a foreign policy or national security issue and have it work for them. There were other circumstances and issues of course, but the first time in decades, Democrats could seek the foreign policy debate instead of trying to survive it and steer back on to domestic issues.
But that just created the opportunity. The questions were whether Democrats could take advantage, and whether Republicans could recover their footing.
I'll jump to the conclusions: yes, Democrats took advantage and no, Republicans haven't been able to find their footing. Taking advantage required winning the presidency, and then a Democratic president being clearly a big improvement, and pretty much, Obama has done that. Obama singed an implemented the status of forces agreement that got us out of Iraq at the end of 2011. He announced a plan to get us out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014. He avoided occupying any more countries. His decision to focus on Al Qaida has inflicted a lot of damage.
Not that there aren't legitimate criticisms to make, but they're criticisms Republicans can't make, at least not without risking being purged for being insufficiently conservative. We on the left mostly wanted to get out of Iraq sooner than 2011, but the right pressured Obama to ignore the agreement with the Iraqi government and stay longer. Many of us on the left want to leave Afghanistan sooner than the end of 2014, but the right objects to leaving at all. We object to continuing to keep Guantanamo open and holding prisoners without charge or trial, Republicans objected when Obama wanted to close it and object to holding trials or releasing anyone. We objected that Obama was slow to pick up on Arab Spring and slow to distance the US from unpopular dictators, while the right wanted him to use force is necessary to protect friendly dictators. So there's the pattern. Not only has Obama been a huge improvement over Bush, but where there's a case to be made against Obama's policies, Republicans can't make the case because they wanted him to go even further in making a mistake. Obama has taken advantage of the opportunity Bush left him to take over foreign policy as an issue, and Republicans seem unable to learn from their mistakes.
Lest it be thought I'm just trying to explain something I don't actually know to be true, here's one recent poll that shows Obama leads Romney on handling an international crisis and foreign policy in general. Democrats have caught up to Republicans even on a question specifically about who can better handle terrorism. Was it really just eight years ago the GOP convention was nothing but talk about 911?
To show how unfit Republicans --- Romney specifically, but Republicans in general --- are to handle foreign policy and national security, these three headlines were from September 11. Yes, just hours before Romney decided that breaking the 911 anniversary truce on negative campaigning, attacking Obama over an incident still in progress, and lying about what Obama said, all at the same time, seemed like a good idea:
Putin 'Grateful' to Romney for justifying the suspicion of America Putin is trying to spread.
Republicans upset Obama skips intelligence briefings, even though, you know, he doesn't.
But guess who did ignore warnings? About 911 no less? The neocons in the Bush administration ignored more warnings than we knew about.
That the Bush administration ignored warnings isn't news, but turns out there were more warnings than we knew about, and it was a big enough deal that the author who revealed it was denounced by professional liar Ari Fleischer as a "truther". It wasn't just Bush, but also the neocons he appointed, and some of these same are advising Romney. That's right, Romney is listening to the same people who got both Al Qaida and Iraq completely wrong. That alone ought to be all we have to tell anyone to convince them Democrats are better at foreign policy than Republicans.
So when Romney denounced Obama for expressing sympathy for the attackers who killed someone at our Benghazi consulate (the numbers and identity were then unknown), which Obama didn't of course, he showed how grotesquely unfit he is to handle foreign policy or international crises. He reinforced the impression he made when he screwed up so much in Britain that a conservative newspaper called him "Mitt the Twit" on its front page, when he said Israel is doing better economically better than the Palestinian territories because of a superior culture and ignored the occupation, and when he publicly criticized the Obama administration for handing a dissident back to China when they were actually negotiating to bring him to the US.
So Romney took what had become a Republican weakness, and made it a much bigger weakness. That's why I'm saying Democrats should not only not shy away from foreign policy and national security, but recognize they now have the long term advantage if they will hammer Republicans with it. Just remember this phrase: "Romney has chosen advisers who were the same people who sold the invasion of Iraq."
Since the events of September 11th and 12th happened fast and there was some errors and misleading about what happened when, here's a timeline of events.
In case someone says only Democrats are complaining about Romney, here are Republican foreign policy pros distressed at how badly Romney handled the crisis.