Given Romney's penchant for flip-flopping on every issue under the sun, his speech Monday was nearly miraculous for mostly sticking to the positions he has held for at least a year. But uncovering what he would really do, or rather, really do differently than Barack Obama, is like casting rune stones in hopes something will turn up.
Romney wants to spend more money, talk tougher to foes and allies alike, attach U.S. foreign policy firmly to Israel's, build a bigger navy, recruit more troops. There are hints that the Bush Doctrine of preventive war would probably hold sway in a Romney administration. Mutuality and multilateralism were definitely not big themes at VMI. But for a handful of commentators and reporters alike, the speech was viewed as a plethora of platitudes sparse on details of exactly how Romney might make a unique mark on any long-term U.S. behavior abroad. Or how he might handle any emergency 3 AM calls.
Here's a sampling of what's being said (more here from Monday):
In principle, much of the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address in Virginia on Monday sounded as if it came from the era of President George Bush. In practice, one needed a microscope to differentiate it from the most of the policies pursued in the past four years by President Barack Obama.• Lindsay Wise and Jonathan S. Landay at McClatchy:
Romney was long on principles but short on details. He was assertive in tone but hesitant with substance. He was impressive with his slogans, less so with pragmatic proposals for change. He asserted that “hope was not a strategy” but refrained from offering a credible alternative.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed his rival’s international strategy as weak Monday in a speech at Virginia Military Institute.• Gopal Ratnam at Bloomberg:
But many of the remarks in his critique didn’t pass the truth test, and despite his tough tone, the foreign-policy positions he outlined hewed close to those already held by President Barack Obama.
Some of Romney’s criticisms, including his contention that the president has made “deep and arbitrary cuts” to defense spending and “not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years,” ignored or stretched the facts.• Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post:
Defense spending today is still more than double what it was when President George W. Bush took office in 2001. A first round of cuts to the Pentagon budget -- $487 billion over 10 years -- was the product of an August 2011 bipartisan agreement between Congress and the Obama administration.
I did hear one concrete departure from Obama’s policies. Romney pledged to increase the Defense Department’s budget. Specifically, he promised that he would have the Navy build 15 ships a year, including three submarines.• David Ignatius at the Washington Post:
For the moment, leave aside the fact that this is spending the nation can’t afford and the Pentagon doesn’t want. What does Romney intend for these new naval assets, and the other weapons systems his spending would buy, to accomplish? What’s the mission? Is it to show we’re the only remaining superpower? Is there a human being who doesn’t get that?
The one anomaly in the speech was the way Romney lavished praise on Gen. George C. Marshall at the beginning and end of the speech. Was it an oversight or mistake that Romney—among the most pro-Israel presidential candidates in our history—didn’t seem to know that Marshall opposed American recognition of Israel and threatened in May 1948 that he would vote against President Truman if he recognized the Jewish state?• The New York Times editors:
Note to Romney speechwriters: Include caveat line “. . . though I didn’t agree with all his policies” in future encomiums to the late five-star general.
Mr. Romney repeated an outright lie about Mr. Obama’s military spending policy to make himself appear more concerned about America’s defense. He accused Mr. Obama of favoring “deep and arbitrary cuts” to the military when, in fact, those cuts, if they happen, were mandated by a deal demanded by the Republicans to end their trumped-up crisis over the debt ceiling.• The Wall Street Journal editors:
On Iran's nuclear drive, Mr. Romney said he would boost the U.S. Navy presence in the Persian Gulf and strengthen economic sanctions, which Mr. Obama tried to water down in Congress before taking credit for them. But Mr. Romney notably did not repeat his July proposal that Iran must give up its demand to enrich uranium. The U.S. and Europe have wasted years looking for a diplomatic agreement to let the mullahs "enrich" peacefully. It'd be nice if the GOP candidate had taken this option off the table.
Carping opposition politicians, laying into an incumbent for failing to right the world’s wrongs, have a right to criticise, but then must offer a credible answer to the counter-question: well, what are you going to do about it, then?• David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:
Mr Romney’s speech failed that test several times. Thus, though he is right to point to foreign-policy setbacks that make the Barack Obama of 2008 look naïve and opportunistic, his own analysis is not any less opportunistic, and no less cheap.
A centerpiece of the Romney campaign's argument that Obama has not been tough enough on Iran is that the president has not offered a credible military threat against the Iranians. Say what you will about the rest of Romney's remarks—and broadly speaking, there was not much new in them except that for the first time, the Republican nominee has addressed foreign policy recently without tripping over one of his own misstatements—but even some of the president's supporters have told me privately they wonder about his commitment and that of the U.S. military to taking action against Iran.• Gene Healy at Reason:
Some of Mitt Romney's supporters argue that he's too smart to believe his own bellicose rhetoric. They hope that if elected, he'll shake the Etch a Sketch again and pivot toward realism and restraint. So who says hope isn't a strategy?Whether CNN moderator Candy Crowley will allow tough foreign policy questions to emerge from the townhall audience Oct. 16 when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney next go head to head is anybody's guess. Such questions—directed at both candidates—are badly needed.