For months now, the right and the left have argued about whether this year's contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is a repeat of the 1980 race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. It's a comparison that benefits Republicans, who want to portray Obama as helpless on the economy ('Are you better off than you were four years ago?'), feckless on foreign policy (both Carter and Obama faced attacks on U.S. embassies), and politically vulnerable (Reagan surged ahead of Carter in the homestretch; the Romney campaign has its fingers crossed).
On Wednesday, National Journal's Sophie Quinton argued that Romney's criticism of Obama in the wake of Tuesday's assaults on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya was a marked departure from Reagan's response to the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and ensuing hostage crisis in 1979-1980. When Carter's effort to rescue the American hostages in Iran failed in April 1980, Quinton points out, Reagan took the high ground, asserting that "this is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united." When Reagan later debated Carter in the fall, she adds, he refrained from answering a question about how he would handle a similar crisis because of the sensitivity of the issue.
That's some impressive restraint. But while Reagan did ocassionally express support on the campaign trail for Carter's responses to the Iranian hostage crisis (praising the decision to freeze Iranian assets, for example), he was far less diplomatic on many other occasions.
In fact, the debate between Carter and Reagan over the Iranian crisis was remarkably similar to the rhetoric we're hearing now from the Obama and Romney campaigns. Let's take a look at some examples:
U.S. weakness at fault
Reagan: In November 1979, just weeks after radical Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Reagan argued that Carter's policies had diminished respect for the United States around the world. "[L]et us be respected to the point that never again will a demented dictator dare to invade an American embassy and hold our people hostage," he said. The Associated Press reported at the time that "Reagan repeatedly said he wouldn't comment on the Iranian situation because remarks by presidential candidates might upset possible secret negotiations" to free American hostages. "But in each case," the news outlet added, Reagan "followed his refusal with criticism" of Carter's Iran policy.
Romney: Romney, it seems, is far less conflicted about speaking out, but he too has suggested that Obama's failure to lead created the conditions under which attacks on U.S. missions could occur. "The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed," he said at a press conference on Wednesday. Romney surrogate John Bolton was more blunt in an interview with the Washington Post. "The perception of American weakness that provided the foundation for these attacks is largely because of Obama administration mistakes and lack of resolve," he argued.
Embassy attack symptomatic of bigger issues
Reagan: In November 1979, the Washington Post also reported the Reagan quote above, but with some additional context. Reagan claimed that the lack of respect underlying the embassy attack stemmed from the Carter administration's destructive desire to be liked, whether by supporting the SALT II nuclear arms deal with the Soviet Union or transferring control of the Panama Canal to Panama. "Isn't it about time that we said to the administration in Washington that we're not so concerned if other countries like us?" the Republican candidate asked. "We would like, once again, to be respected by other countries."
Romney: Romney cited his differences with Obama on Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and Syria during his press conference, and Romney surrogate Dan Senor made a more explicit connection between the events of the last couple days and these larger issues during an appearance on CNN. The violence, he contended, is a reminder of the "chaos that a lot of the policies of this administration has sowed. Chaos in the Arab Spring. Chaos where allies in Israel feel that they can't rely on us. You saw the flare up over the last couple of days with the prime minister of Israel and the president."
Violation of American principles
Reagan: In the weeks after the attack in Tehran, Reagan lashed out at the Carter administration for violating an "American principle" by not granting Iran's deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi permanent asylum. "If you read those words on the face of the Statue of Liberty, we have a history of being an asylum for political exiles," Reagan asserted. "And he certainly was as loyal an ally for a great many years as this country have possibly have had."
Romney: Romney has also appealed to American values in denouncing the Obama administration, arguing that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, in publishing a statement and tweets condemning an anti-Islam American film before a crowd gathered at the compound, had issued an "apology for America's values." The first response to an embassy breach "should not be to say, 'Yes, we stand by our comments that -- that suggest that there's something wrong with the right of free speech,'" Romney declared.
'Shoot first' mentality
Carter: During his convention speech in August 1980, Carter noted that "while we Democrats grapple with the real challenges of a real world, others talk about a world of tinsel and make-believe," adding that "[i]t's a make-believe world, a world of good guys and bad guys, where some politicians shoot first and ask questions later." (h/t: Washington Examiner)
Obama: In an interview with CBS on Wednesday, Obama criticized Romney for swiftly denouncing the administration's foreign policy while news of the U.S. mission attacks was still developing. Intentionally or not, the president echoed Carter. "Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later," he observed. "And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that. That, you know, it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts."
No time for politics
Carter: In October 1980, ahead of his only debate with Reagan during the race, chastised the Republican candidate for breaking a pledge to refrain from discussing the Iranian crisis. "The fate of the hostages is too important ... to be made a political football," Carter explained. Reagan, for his part, claimed the hostage issue was fair game. "Breaking my pledge might be if I waited until 7:15 on Election Day and then brought the subject [up] as he did in the Wisconsin primary," Reagan retorted (he was referring to Carter's surprise news conference on Iran on the morning of the state's primary).
Obama: In an interview with Telemundo on Wednesday, Obama argued that the aftermath of the U.S. mission attacks was not a "time for politics." As president, he added, "my obligation is to focus on security for our people ... and not having ideological arguments on a day when we're mourning."
There are some differences between the two periods, of course. Reagan did not publicly criticize Carter for several days after students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Iran, while Romney issued a statement hours after the attacks in Egypt and Libya. But within weeks, Reagan was weighing in forcefully on the issue. And by December 1979, the Washington Post reported that Reagan was "finding it hard to restrain himself" on Iran and had "suggested for the first time that he might make the Iranian issue a major theme of his political campaign once the hostage question is decided."
That day never came during the race. But that didn't stop Reagan from seizing on an issue that ultimately helped propel him to victory.
In defending Mitt Romney's national security credentials to BuzzFeed on Tuesday, foreign policy advisor Robert O'Brien cited a rather curious data point -- the French Romney picked up while serving as a Mormon missionary in France in the late 1960s:
"The Governor is an extraordinarily well-traveled businessman, he lived overseas as a young man, he speaks French, he understands the world and he's written extensively about foreign policy and national security," he continued. "The idea that he's this naive guy at 65 years old, given his experience heading the Olympic Winter Games and everything else, I just don't think that's going to play."
Take that Mr. President, with your "passable" Bahasa and middling Spanish! Barack Obama, after all, admitted that he lacked foreign language skills on the campaign trail in 2008, remarking that "it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?" Wrong. Not if you're Mitt Romney.
What's particularly striking about O'Brien's comment is that Newt Gingrich, who speaks a little French himself, attacked this very trait in the Republican primary, pointing out that Romney spoke French while promoting the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. In the campaign ad below, the narrator observes that "just like [former Democratic presidential nominee] John Kerry, he speaks French too."
Now, it seems, the campaign is turning Romney's French skills into an asset-- a testament to the candidate's wordliness. Over the weekend, Romney's running mate Paul Ryan also defended his record on foreign policy -- in a line that sounded eerily similar to Dan Quayle's assertion during the 1988 vice-presidential debate that he had "as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency." Here's what Ryan had to say:
I have more foreign policy experience coming into this job than President Obama did coming into his....
I've been in Congress for 14 years. He was in the Senate for far, far less time that that. I voted -- you know, Norah, I voted to send men and women to war. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I've met with our troops to get their perspectives. I've been to the funerals. I've talked to the widows. I've talked to the wives, the moms and dads. That's something. That matters.
I take this very seriously. I've done doing this for 14 years.
So far, the Obama campaign hasn't borrowed a page from Lloyd Bentsen, Quayle's challenger in 1988, who famously told the Republican senator, "I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."
Sectarian tensions are once again rising perilously in Iraq after a court in Baghdad sentenced Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to death in absentia -- on the same day that insurgents launched a wave of attacks across the country that killed nearly 100 people. But, judging from this year's campaign rhetoric, you probably won't hear Mitt Romney criticizing Barack Obama for the precarious situation in Iraq following the U.S. troop withdrawal.
According to a University of California, Santa Barbara archive of formal campaign speeches by both candidates, Romney has used the word "Iraq" seven times on the trail (usually in the context of military service) while Obama has referenced the country 76 times (often as part of a stump-speech line about keeping his promise to end the war). The same pattern held true at the conventions: Republicans mentioned Iraq seven times, while the Democrats did so 34 times. Romney didn't talk about Iraq in his convention speech and made only a passing reference to it in his biggest foreign-policy address of the campaign in South Carolina.
Romney might argue, as he has in defending his failure to mention the Afghan war in Tampa, that it's his policies that matter, not how many times he mentions particular words in speeches. But he's been equally evasive when outlining how he would have managed the Iraq war. When Obama announced in October 2011 that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year, Romney lashed out at the president for not securing an "orderly transition in Iraq" and publicizing the recommendations of military commanders (the 2012 GOP platform doesn't mention these criticisms).
In a Fox News interview two months later, Romney's position on Iraq grew murkier. He noted that U.S. troops were "fortunately" withdrawing from Iraq before adding that he would have left a residual force in the country. He followed those comments up by refusing to answer whether he would send U.S. troops back to Iraq as president:
Why is Romney so hesitant to talk about Iraq? The bottom line is that the unpopular war, which is fading fast from voters' minds, is a political loser for the GOP candidate. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in November 2011 revealed that nearly eight in ten Americans approved of Obama's decision to withdraw combat troops from Iraq (including 58 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independent voters). A CNN/ORC International poll a month later found that more than half of Americans felt sending troops to Iraq in the first place was a mistake and that 57 percent believed the Bush administration misled the American public about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Fifty-four percent of respondents in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo survey this summer claimed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had contributed most to the federal budget deficit -- a flashpoint in the campaign.
Every time Romney mentions Iraq, moreover, he exposes himself to charges that he is aligned with George W. Bush and the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party -- an association that might just stick given the debate over whether, when it comes to foreign policy, Romney is a neoconservative, realist, or another breed altogether. This is precisely the attack that the Obama campaign leveled in June by linking Romney to Bush's former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and his "reckless neoconservative thinking." And it's what Obama himself implied in his convention speech by arguing that Romney and running mate Paul Ryan "want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly."
Obama has already taken Romney's words on Iraq out of context to support this back-to-Bush argument, asserting that the Republican candidate said ending the war in Iraq would be "tragic" (Romney argued that the pace of the withdrawal was tragic). The Romney campaign isn't about to give the president any more ammunition.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
The Obama campaign is still making hay over Mitt Romney's characterization of Russia as America's "number one geopolitical foe," most recently with the movie poster above promoting Senator John Kerry's dig at the Republican nominee during the Democratic convention. Yet while Romney's foreign-policy advisors have defended the candidate's assesment of Russia in the past, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan appeared to back away from the assertion during appearances on the Sunday talk shows over the weekend, instead characterizing Iran as the gravest threat facing the United States.
Take Romney, for example. In 2010, he penned a Washington Post op-ed calling Obama's New START nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia the president's "worst foreign-policy mistake." But in an interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory that aired on Sunday, Romney used the same language to describe Obama's Iran policy. And he didn't mention the president's "reset" with Russia even though Gregory referenced the Democratic critique that Romney is trapped in a Cold War mentality:
GREGORY: But [Obama] used some pretty tough words in talking about you, saying you and Paul Ryan are, quote, "New to foreign policy." Want to "take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly." Said you were stuck in a Cold War time warp. Pretty -- pretty tough stuff and suggesting you're not ready on day one to be the commander-in-chief.
ROMNEY: Well, I can certainly look at his record and I think one can say that he's had some successes and he's had some failures. And perhaps the biggest failure is as it relates to the greatest threat that America faces and the world faces, which is the nuclear Iran. The president has not drawn us further away from a nuclear Iran and in fact Iran is closer to having a weapon, closer to having nuclear capability than when he took office. This is the greatest failure, in my opinion, of his foreign policy.
Meanwhile, during an interview with Norah O'Donnell for Face the Nation, Paul Ryan characterized Iran as America's number one geopolitical foe and said Romney hadn't intended to suggest that Russia deserved that label:
O'DONNELL: Who do you America's number one enemy is?
RYAN: Well, I think a nuclear Iran is our biggest foreign policy threat today.
O'DONNELL: The reason I ask you that is Mitt Romney was criticized during the Democratic National Convention for saying Russia is without question our number one geopolitical foe. So do you disagree with Mitt Romney?
RYAN: No, I think what he was saying was among the other powers -- China and Russia -- that Russia stands a great threat.
Look, I think sending our foreign policy decisions to be cleared through the U.N. security council where we're giving Iran and China -- excuse me, Russia and China, veto clout over us, that's not good policy. So what we have done through our foreign policy for the Obama administration is we've increase[d] the clout in the card of Russia and China. I think that was a mistake.
Ryan's answer is a bit confusing (when he said "card," did he mean "council?"), but the interviews on Sunday suggest that the Romney campaign has decided to emphasize Obama's failure to curb the Iranian nuclear program through diplomacy, sanctions, and the threat of force, even though the policy differences between the two candidates on Russia are starker than those on Iran.
Ultimately, that's good politics. A CNN/ORC poll in April found that 48 percent of Americans view Iran as a very serious threat to the United States, while 43 percent believe North Korea poses a very serious threat. Only 11 percent of respondents felt Russia represented a very serious threat, down from 65 percent in 1983 (when the survey asked about the Soviet Union).
Whether or not the public's perception of the Iranian threat to the United States is accurate, Romney will likely get more mileage talking about spinning centrifuges in Iran than about Vladimir Putin rebuilding the Soviet empire in Russia.
Democrats flex foreign-policy muscle
At their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, the Democrats weren't shy about touting their rare advantage on national security in this year's election. Speakers mentioned Osama bin Laden 21 times during the three-day event, and Barack Obama ridiculed Republican challenger Mitt Romney's foreign policy in his acceptance speech on Thursday evening.
"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy," the president asserted. "After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy -- not al Qaeda, Russia -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."
At a campaign stop in Iowa on Friday, Romney defended the critical comments he made while visiting London during this summer's Olympic Games, calling it the kind of "straight talk" Obama avoids. "I think it would be appropriate if the president would talk to China in a straight talk manner," he said. "They have manipulated their currency for well over a decade, taken American jobs, and I think it's totally appropriate to show backbone and strength as we deal with other nations around the world, there is nothing wrong with telling people the truth."
On Friday morning, shortly after the Democratic convention wrapped up, a much-anticipated jobs report revealed that that while the unemployment rate had fallen from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent, the economy had added only 96,000 jobs in August, far below the 125,000 that economists had forecasted and the revised figure of 141,000 that the economy had added in July. The Romney campaign pounced. "If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Romney noted, adding that the president had "yet to keep his number one promise to fix the economy."
Saluting the troops
Democrats seized on the controversy surrounding Romney's failure to mention the war in Afghanistan during his acceptance speech last week -- an effort that was no doubt aided by the optics of Obama addressing the troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, the very next day. "No nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech," Senator John Kerry (D-MA) declared on Thursday evening in the most substantive foreign policy speech of the convention. (Romney, for his part, points out that he mentioned Afghanistan during a visit to the American Legion a day after the convention.) A Gallup poll in August showed Romney leading Obama 55 percent to 38 percent among veterans.
Platform politics: Jerusalem
Of all the controversies surrounding this year's Democratic platform, none was more consequential than the debate surrounding the decision to not include language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel in the document's section on Israel. The wording had appeared in the party's 2008 platform, but drafters reportedly removed it to indicate that Jerusalem will remain a so-called final-status issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Party leaders ultimately reinstated the language during a chaotic and contentious voice vote after facing heavy criticism from the Romney campaign and others.
Talk of immigration reform figured prominently in the Democratic convention. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the first Latino to deliver the keynote address at a convention, praised Obama's executive order this summer to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants. "The president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called ‘Dreamers,'" Castro noted. Benita Veliz, an undocumented immigrant and a leader of the Dreamers movement, also addressed the convention. The GOP convention also featured several Latino speakers, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and New Mexican Governor Susana Martinez.
Global warming wasn't a major topic of conversation at the Republican and Democratic conventions -- beyond a debate about whether caring about the rise of the oceans is a good thing -- but Romney did make headlines this week by adjusting his stance on climate change, albeit in a rather confusing fashion. "I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences," he argued. "However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue."
The latest from FP:
Over the last couple weeks, there's been an extended debate on ForeignPolicy.com between Peter Feaver, Charles Kupchan, and Bruce Jentleson over the merits of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's foreign policies. Check it out here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Alex Massie explains why he's sick and tired of U.S. political conventions.
Uri Friedman explores the surprising Republican reset with Pakistan.
Aaron David Miller makes the case for why Barack Obama will win reelection.
John Kerry outlines why the Republicans can't be trusted with national security.
Joshua Keating tells us what a Polkian presidency might look like.
Foreign Policy releases its list of the 50 most powerful Democrats on foreign policy.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
As has been covered extensively during the campaign, Mitt Romney believed humans caused climate change before he didn't believe it and before it became a punch-line in his speeches. In response to a question on the climate a science questionnaire from Nature this week, also filled out by Obama, Romney seems to be trying to have it both ways:
I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community. Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response.
So he does believe that humans are causing climate change and that lawmakers should consider the subject, but doesn't believe the science is settled. And even if it were, the science shouldn't dictate a "particular policy response." This is what happens when statements are tailored to avoid any assertions that could later be contradicted by either real-world events or the speaker's own actions.
Throughout this year's presidential election, as talk of a possible Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities has grown louder, there has been rampant speculation about whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, and how that preference could influence the timing of a strike. Reports of a longstanding friendship between Netanyahu and Romney only fueled the debate, especially since Netanyahu and Obama reportedly have a chilly personal relationship.
In a national security address on Thursday evening -- a day after Democratic leaders added language on Jerusalem to their platform in the face of intense criticism -- Senator John Kerry (D-MA) suggested that, in fact, Netanyahu is on Obama's side:
Barack Obama promised always to stand with Israel to tighten sanctions on Iran -- and take nothing off the table.
Again and again, the other side has lied about where this president stands and what this president has done. But Prime Minister Netanyahu set the record straight -- he said, our two countries have "exactly the same policy," "our security cooperation is unprecedented." When it comes to Israel, I'll take the word of Israel's prime minister over Mitt Romney any day.
Kerry, who was referring to comments Netanyahu made in speeches to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2011 and 2012, wasn't the only speaker at the Democratic convention to quote Netanyahu as an unwitting surrogate. Here's what former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler had to say on Tuesday evening:
Last week, Mitt Romney claimed that the president has thrown Israel "under the bus."
Perhaps Mr. Romney should listen to those who know best -- Israel's leaders.
Listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has thanked president Obama for "unprecedented" security cooperation and for wearing his support for the Jewish state as a "badge of honor."
Republicans have used Netanyahu's words to their advantage too. When Romney visited Israel as part of a foreign tour over the summer, the Israeli prime minister told the candidate that he agreed with his assessment of the Iranian threat. The "sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota," Netanyahu observed. The Romney campaign quickly emailed out news coverage of the meeting.
Netanyahu, for his part, has avoided jumping into the fray -- at least explicitly. In July, ahead of Romney's trip to Israel, he told CBS's Bob Schieffer that he would treat the Republican candidate like he treated candidate Obama when he visited Israel in 2008. When Schieffer asked whether he would be as comfortable with a President Romney as he was with a President Obama, Netanyahu teased him for asking the question. "You're far too experienced a reporter," he said. In another interview with Fox News, he chided Chris Wallace for asking the same question, saying "you're far too wise a journalist to think that I'm going to get into your field of American politics."
I would call the prime minister's office and ask if Kerry's speech tonight has, at long last, inspired Netanyahu to issue an endorsement. But I'm far too wise a journalist.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
So far, Pakistan hasn't been mentioned once at the Republican or Democratic conventions. But what was lost in all the talk last week about Mitt Romney not mentioning Afghanistan in Tampa was the fact that, only days earlier, a campaign advisor had made an interesting case for why the Republican presidential candidate would improve U.S.-Pakistani relations.
After expressing concern about extremism in Pakistan and the security of the country's nuclear weapons, Mitchell Reiss, a former head of policy planning at the State Department, told foreign journalists that a Romney administration would treat Pakistan with a "little bit more respect," according to a Press Trust of India report. In return, Reiss explained, the United States would expect "more cooperation" from Islamabad on Afghanistan.
That posture is a departure from the aggressive rhetoric we heard from some Republican candidates in the primary, when Pakistan was mentioned more than 80 times during a pair of debates in South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, you may recall, called for the United States to zero out foreign aid to Pakistan and predicate future assistance on Pakistani cooperation. "[Y]ou tell the Pakistanis, 'help us or get out of the way, but don't complain if we kill people you're not willing to go after on your territory where you have been protecting them,'" Gingrich asserted.
At the time, Romney staked out a middle ground on Pakistan. Expressing support for drone strikes (he said the Pakistanis were "comfortable" with the practice), Romney noted that Pakistan was "close to being a failed state" and had several competing power centers. "We have to work with our friends in that country to get them to do some of the things we can't do ourselves," he explained.
This year's Republican platform reflects that sentiment. Sure, the document urges the Pakistani government to "sever any connection between its security and intelligence forces and the insurgents." And it appears to denounce the sentencing of a Pakistani doctor for helping the United States track down Osama bin Laden, declaring that "no Pakistani citizen should be punished for helping the United States against the terrorists." But, crucially, the manifesto adds:
The working relationship between our two countries is a necessary, though sometimes difficult, benefit to both, and we look toward the renewal of historic ties that have frayed under the weight of international conflict.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, who called for a "new partnership" with Islamabad in their 2008 platform, focus on Obama's commitment to hunting down terrorists in Pakistan in this year's edition. The document does state that Islamabad can "be a partner" in establishing peace in South Asia and that the United States will "respect Pakistan's sovereignty and democratic institutions." But there's no mention of restoring U.S.-Pakistani relations, which have deteriorated over the past four years because of the bin Laden raid, the Obama's administration's embrace of airstrikes against militants, and, most recently, the U.S. debate about whether to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network a terrorist organization.
Why is the GOP advocating a reset, if you will, of U.S.-Pakistani relations? For one thing, the stance plays into Romney's larger argument that the Obama administration has alienated America's allies and emboldened its enemies. The Romney campaign can also fend off charges that the governor hasn't distinguished his Afghan policy from Obama's by pointing to Pakistan. As Romney's campaign website explains:
We will only persuade Afghanistan and Pakistan to be resolute if they are convinced that the United States will itself be resolute. Only an America that appears fully committed to success will eliminate the incentives for them to hedge their bets by aligning with opposing forces.
As for whether the GOP position is a popular one, that's more difficult to discern. Americans overwhelmingly support drone strikes against terrorists, but they're not sure how to feel about Pakistan. Few view the country as a grave threat to the United States, but a Rasmussen poll last year found that 62 percent of likely voters see Pakistan as something in between an ally and an enemy. Sixty-five percent, meanwhile, support cutting off all military and financial aid to Islamabad.
Given those numbers, perhaps treating Pakistan with just a "little bit more respect" is about all the Republicans can get away with.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Thomas Friedman has an interesting column in today's New York Times that raises the question of whether Mitt Romney is actually as hawkish on foreign policy as he makes himself out to be. Friedman writes:
I know Romney doesn't believe a word he's saying on foreign policy and that it's all aimed at ginning up votes: there's some China-bashing to help in the Midwest, some Arab-bashing to win over the Jews, some Russia-bashing (our "No. 1 geopolitical foe") to bring in the Polish vote, plus a dash of testosterone to keep the neocons off his back.
Some neocons are, indeed, worried that Mitt is only pretending to be a hawk to keep the party onside. Jennifer Rubin, the court scribe of the Romney campaign, channels some of that anxiety in a recent blog post. "[A]mong Republicans," she writes, riffing off of some of the candidate's recent speeches, "it is a segment of foreign policy hawks who are most aggrieved and feel overlooked by the campaign."
From the perspective of some hawks, Mitt Romney needs to state controversial, bold foreign policy positions as sort of a test of his seriousness. If he doesn't say now he'll finish the job in Afghanistan and he'll, if need be, set up a no-fly zone in Syria, he'll shrink from tough positions when in office. They don't think it is enough to have surrogates like former senator Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican, and senior adviser Richard Williamson give assurances, speak about Romney's devotion to American exceptionalism and remind conservatives of Romney's early support for the Syrian rebels.
I've heard similar whispers to this effect, and Bill Kristol likely spoke for many on the right when he dinged Romney for failing to even mention the war in Afghanistan during his convention speech, a bizarre unforced error when a perfunctory shoutout to the troops would have been fine.
Doubtless, the various foreign-policy wings of the GOP would battle it out for influence in a Romney administration, and the candidate has done a reasonably good job of staying vague enough that he won't limit his options once in office. But, like Jacob Heilbrunn, I think the realists would win most battles, and here's why.
Josh Barro, a Bloomberg writer and former Manhattan Institute fellow, has been promoting his theory that Romney has a "Secret Economic Plan." In a nutshell, the idea is that Romney can't possibly believe his own rhetoric about immediately imposing severe budget cuts. "To increase his chances of getting elected, he will have to implement policies that are likely to grow the economy," says Barro, and that in part means running up Keynesian deficits. Romney has already indicated that he wants to grow the defense budget, and has railed against defense cuts that he says would kill jobs (Keynesian!). He's also favorably cited a recent Congressional Budget Office report warning that the so-called fiscal cliff would provoke a sharp recession (Keynesian!). It seems pretty clear he doesn't believe in European-style austerity, even though he talks a lot about Obama's deficits and so forth. And the likely Republican-controlled Congress, newly de-radicalized by Obama's departure, would probably go along with heavy deficit spending, just as it did under George W. Bush.
What about foreign policy? Here's where the overseas component of the Secret Economic Plan comes in. Romney isn't going to be interested in getting involved in any foreign entanglements that threaten the Plan. His China comments are nonsense that he obviously has no intention of implementing. He's already said he's fine with Obama's timeline for winding down the war in Afghanistan -- and that means cooperating with No. 1 Geopolitical Foe Russia on the logistically complicated exit. He walked back an aide's comments suggesting he'd green-light an Israeli attack on Iran. He hasn't said much if anything about Pakistan, or about ramping up what remains of the war on terror generally. Even his hawkish advisor John Bolton, in a recent Washington Times op-ed, openly worried that Romney might not pull the trigger himself and bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. His foreign-policy team has bent over backwards to stress that the former governor is not planning to intervene directly in Syria. And his appointment of Robert Zoellick as the head of his national security transition team suggests at a minimum that top realists will play a prominent role in his administration.
It's not a slam-dunk case, I admit. As the New York Times' Peter Baker noted in a smart take on Romney's foreign policy last week, "The challenge is figuring out when the speeches are just words intended to highlight or even invent differences for political purposes and when they genuinely signal a change in America's relationship with the world." But if Romney is serious about earning himself a second term, logic suggests he'll tone it down if and when he gets behind the Resolute Desk.
Correction: Josh Barro informs me he's a *former* Manhattan Institute fellow. Apologies for the mistake.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades got a lot of reporters scratching their heads last week when he suggested that James K. Polk could be a historical model for Mitt Romney's presidency in an interview with the Huffington Post:
[W]hen I asked [Matt] Rhoades in July how Romney would govern if elected, and what Romney might do with the budget and entitlement reform plans Ryan had already outlined, Rhoades' eyes lit up. He gave me a name: James Polk.
Don't Yawn. There's a history lesson in that name. Rhoades and the rest of the members of Romney's inner circle think a Romney presidency could look much like the White House tenure of the 11th U.S. president.
Polk, who served from 1845 to 1849, presided over the expansion of the U.S. into a coast-to-coast nation, annexing Texas and winning the Mexican-American war for territories that also included New Mexico and California. He reduced trade barriers and strengthened the Treasury system.
And he was a one-term president.
Polk is an allegory for Rhoades: He did great things, and then exited the scene, and few remember him. That, Rhoades suggested, could be Romney's legacy as well.
Citing Polk as a model for your presidency feels a bit like a hipster's record recommendation. ("Oh, you're into Andrew Jackson? He's okay, I guess, but you should really check out Polk.") But it's interesting to consider exactly what a Polkian presidency would look like.
It's certainly true that given the extroadinary political changes that took place under his presidency, the 11th president doesn't get nearly enough attention. (Nor, for that matter, do any of the presidents between Jackson and Lincoln.) It's certainly I'm no Polk scholar but having recently read journalist and historian Robert W. Merry's very good A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent , I had a few quick thoughts on the pros and cons of the Polk model:
An exceptional exceptionalist: You want to talk about national greatness conservatism? In just four years, Polk -- Andrew Jackson's protege -- expanded the size of the United States by a third, incorporating Texas, the Northwest, and and Southwest. Polk envisioned the United States as a continental power with Pacific ports giving it access to emerging Asian markets. And in just four years he made it happen. The Monroe doctrine could just as easily be called the Polk doctrine, as the Tennessean repeatedly took action to prevent European influence in the Western Hemisphere.
Getting it done: Polk came into office in 1844 with four main goals. On the international front, he wanted to reach a favorable agreement with Britain on the Oregon territory, which was then in an ambiguous state of joint governance between the two countries. He also wanted to acquire California from Mexico. On the domestic side, he wanted to reduce tariffs and create and independent treasury. (Yes, he was a free-market guy as well.) All these goals were accomplished. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put Polk in the same category as much better known figures including Thomas Jefferson, Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, as presidents who were "able to impose their own priorities on the country."
Leading from the front: By 1844 it was fairly obviously that Oregon would fall into U.S. hands eventually. Americans were migrating west at a rapid rate and vastly outnumbered the British in the territory. Many argued at the time that the U.S. should simply let the demographics run their course, but as Merry writes, "Patience was not a trait to be found in the personality of James Polk... he wasn't about to leave to successors the accomplishment he could himself obtain." In his inaugural address, Polk asserted America's "clear and unquestionable" title to Oregon and took a hard line in territorial negotiations that brought the two countries to the brink of their third war in less than 70 years. In the end, Britain would back down and the U.S. acquired the territory that would become the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
Left on top: A compromise candidate after a contentious Democratic primary, Polk pledged to only stay in office for one term and stuck to it, despite allies urging him to run again. As Ross Douthat writes, "he's a fascinating figure precisely because seems to have chosen retirement less out of necessity than out of a genuine belief that his service to the republic was complete." His health may also have played a role: He died just three months after leaving office.
More war-war than jaw-jaw: Polk's confrontational approach to the Oregon question looks shrewd in retrospect, but the course of U.S. history might have turned out quite differently if the U.S. had found itself fighting simultaneous wars with Mexico and Britain. In the case of Mexico, Polk seemed to recognize that a war would be the only way to accomplish his territorial aims and set out to create the conditions for one, most notably by ordering Gen. Zachary Taylor to march troops into disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande in January 1846, setting in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to war. Polk may not have been the most aggressive hawk of his era -- there were members of his cabinet that favored the outright conquest of Mexico -- but the Mexican war was about as close as the U.S. ever got to an outright war of conquest, not a practice that even the most aggresive hawks usually endorse.
Bad manager: The Polk administration was a mess. His ostensible allies in the Democratic congressional delegation were divided over the war -- and increasingly over slavery -- his own secretary of State consistently undermined him, and his generals and diplomats were often outright insubordinate. The Polk cabinet leaked like a sieve, with confidential information frequently appearing the press, generally traced back to Secretary of State James Buchanan, who violated a pledge to Polk not to campaign for president while still secretary. Despite Buchanan's behind the scenes machinations and frequent failures to carry out Polk's orders, the president repeatedly backed off from threats to fire him. Mitt Romney may "like being able to fire people," but Merry writes that Polk "lacked the fortitude for the face-to-face encounter that must attend a dismissal.
Civil military relations weren't that great either. Polk's senior generals, Winfield "Old Fuss and Feathers" Scott and Zachary Taylor frequently clashed with the president, disobeying orders and engaging in unauthorized freelance diplomacy with the Mexicans, and Taylor actually left the battlefield to campaign for -- and win -- the presidency on a Whig ticket. The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican war was negotiated by an envoy who Polk had fired weeks earlier. Polk's bizarrely effective brand of organized chaos would seem an odd model for Romney, a candidate who has sold himself as businesslike and managerial.
Missed the big picture: Polk was mostly uninterested in the question of increasingly controversial question of slavery throughout his presidency, focusing instead on the goal of territorial expansion that he believed would bring Americans together in the goal of national greatness. He reacted with annoyance when an antislavery congressional Democrat introduced the Wilmot Proviso, which would have banned slavery in the territories won from Mexico, and seemed flummoxed that North-South disputes were inserting themselves into the war debate. By the end of his presidency, abolitionist Democrats had split off to form the Free Soil party -- later absorbed into the Republicans -- and the fault lines had developed for the conflict that would literally tear the country apart 13 years later. It's not clear that Polk could have done anything to prevent this, but his lack of interest in the issue seems remarkably shortsighted in retrospect.
(Also, if Romney adopts Polk as a model, the GOP may have to drop the "party of Lincoln" line before Honest Abe turns over in his grave. In the view of Lincoln, then a freshman Whig legislator who idolized Polk's longtime rival Henry Clay, the president had deliberately instigated the war with Mexico and "talked like an insane man" with a "mind taxed beyond its power.")
Other than a vague free-market hawkishness, it's hard to divine what a Polkian approach to contemporary issues such as Iran's nuclear program or healthcare costs might entail. But give some credit to Rhoades, a discussion of the merits of the Polk presidency is more interesting than hearing about Reagan for the 47,000th time.
Last week, I noted how the Russian press was positively livid over Mitt Romney's aggressive posture toward Russia.
Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin jumped into fray -- with a surprisingly measured response to a candidate who has asked whether Putin will "bludgeon the countries of the former Soviet Union into submission, and intimidate Europe with the levers of its energy resources."
Asked by Russia's RT television whether he would be able to work with a President Romney, Putin smiled. "We'll work with whoever gets elected as president by the American people," he said. But he also tossed the ball in America's court, adding, "our effort will only be as efficient as our partners allow it to be." Here's the clip (RT will air the full interview on Thursday):
Putin's restraint is a bit surprising given that just last week, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, criticized Romney more pointedly for his assertion at the Republican convention that, if elected, he would show Putin "a little less flexibility and more backbone." U.S. and Russian officials have repeatedly "expressed their understanding that it is inadmissable for the bilateral ties to fall victim to pre-election debates," Peskov said.
Putin, it seems, is taking the high ground on this one.
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Ahead of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro's keynote address at the Democratic convention in Charlotte on Tuesday night, there was a lot of talk about what his big moment and the prominence of Latino speakers at last week's Republican convention say about the growing importance of Latinos -- who represented 9 percent of the electorate in 2008 -- in this year's contest.
Barack Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in the last presidential election, reversing the inroads George W. Bush had made with the community. And the president enjoys similar support now, though Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received a modest bump among Latinos after the GOP convention.
But what issues determine that support? We often hear about the tough GOP stance on illegal immigration driving Latinos away from the party, but Latinos, like all demographic groups, aren't single-issue voters. In an impreMedia/Latino Decision poll this week, for example, 58 percent of respondents listed creating more jobs and fixing the economy as one of the most important issues facing the Latino community. Forty-two percent of respondents, meanwhile, cited immigration reform and the DREAM Act -- legislation that would provide legal status for children of illegal immigrants who want to enroll in college or the military -- as an important issue (respondents could select up to two issues). Nineteen percent chose education reform and schools, and 18 percent health care.
In June, a USA Today/Gallup asked Latino respondents a slightly different question: What issue is most important to you? An equal percentage (20 percent) mentioned health care, unemployment, and immigration policies, while 17 percent selected economic growth and 11 percent chose the gap between the rich and the poor (the percentage of respondents who cited immigration policies dropped to 12 percent when only registered Latino voters were considered). The poll also found that Romney fared best among those Latinos who cited issues such as the budget deficit and economic growth as their top concerns, and that immigrants and first-generation Hispanic-Americans cared more about immigration than those whose families have lived in the United States for more time.
Latino voters, in other words, are paying a great deal of attention to the issue that is top of mind for all voters this year: the economy. And it was precisely that issue that Castro, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and son of a civil rights activist, focused on in his keynote address tonight. Castro praised Obama's economic vision and argued that the policies that Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan advocate would "dismantle" the middle class. "We all understand that freedom isn't free," he explained. "What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it."
Castro devoted only four lines to immigration:
[B]ecause he knows that we don't have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called dreamers.
I believe in you. Barack Obama believes in you. Now it's time for Congress to enshrine in law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they've ever called home: America.
After the brief aside, he returned to talking about job growth and the future of the middle class.
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Last week, the GOP made the first ever reference to "American exceptionalism" in a party platform, using the buzzy term as the title for the document's foreign-policy section and defining the concept as the "conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history." Speakers at the Republican convention hammered home the theme to contrast their vision of American greatness with President Obama's alleged declinism.
The Democratic platform released on Monday evening appears to fire back, but without using "American exceptionalism" or some variation of the phrase once. Instead, the platform declares:
We also understand the indispensable role that the United States must continue to play in promoting international peace and prosperity.
"Indispensable" isn't just a throwaway adjective here. In 2008, the Democratic platform used the word to describe Social Security, Europe, and the United Nations, but not America. This year, the phrasing invokes the Clinton administration's description of the United States as an "indispensable nation" well before American exceptionalism became a staple of political discourse. Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal and historian James Chace coined the term in 1996 to encapsulate the idea of "liberal internationalism" in the post-Cold War world. Here's how Blumenthal described the moment of inspiration:
We were able to describe the concept of the United States as the guarantor of stability as the sole superpower within the framework of multinational institutions, but I was intent on boiling it down to a phrase. Finally, together, we hit on it: "indispensable nation." Eureka! I passed it on first to Madeleine Albright, at the time the United Nations ambassador, and then to the president.
And here's how Bill Clinton used the phrase in 1996, in a speech explaining the rationale behind NATO's intervention in Bosnia:
The fact is America remains the indispensable nation. There are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression, between hope and fear. Of course, we can't take on all the world's burden. We cannot become its policemen. But where our interests and values demand it and where we can make a difference, America must act and lead.
Obama has made sure to emphasize his support for American exceptionalism ever since he landed in hot water for saying he believed "in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." But in major speeches -- such as his State of the Union address in January and his graduation address at the U.S. Air Force Academy in May -- he's used the "indispensable nation" formulation instead.
As this week's convention progresses, it's worth keeping an eye on how the Democrats describe America's role in the world in light of GOP attacks. Will they employ different language than the Republicans? And, if so, will they make the case that the words amount to anything more than another way to say that America is a very special place?
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It's rather surprising that it was mystery-guest actor Clint Eastwood -- not Mitt Romney -- who made the only reference to the war in Afghanistan during the final night of the GOP convention. Commentators on both the right and the left have taken the Republican presidential nominee to task for not addressing a nearly 11-year-old conflict in which roughly 90,000 U.S. troops are currently engaged and more than 2,000 have died.
In fact, the so-called "forgotten war" was only mentioned four times during the three-day Republican convention (the word "jobs," by contrast, was uttered 220 times). The Associated Press reports that Romney is the first Republican since 1952 to accept the party nomination without discussing war.
The omission is particularly notable considering that just last week, in New Hampshire, Romney criticized President Obama, who has not delivered a major address on the war since May, for not speaking more about Afghanistan. "When our men and women are in harm's way, I expect the president of the United States to address the nation on a regular basis and explain what's happening and why they're there and what the mission is, what its progress is, how we'll know when it's completed,'' he explained.
Romney himself, however, has not mentioned Afghanistan much this election season. According to an archive of 46 formal campaign speeches that Romney has delivered in 2011 and 2012, which the University of California, Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project compiles based on transcripts released to the press by the campaign, Romney has mentioned the word "Afghanistan" 10 times on the campaign trail.
Obama, by contrast, has used the word 36 times -- more than three times as often as Romney -- in 41 speeches (over a shorter timeframe), according to the same American Presidency Project archive. There are caveats to these figures, of course: the UCSB database doesn't include every remark the two candidates have made on the campaign trail, and Obama almost always references Afghanistan in the same way -- a line or two about the administration's commitment to winding down the war, bringing the troops home, and investing the savings domestically. Obama is also the commander-in-chief, while Romney is a candidate.
Still, directionally, the numbers suggest that the Democrats are currently more comfortable talking about the war than the Republicans are. A case in point: An Obama campaign official recently told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) will speak about the president's "plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan just like he did from Iraq" during national security night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next week.
The war in Afghanistan is a politically fraught issue for Romney. In calling the conflict a "war of necessity" rather than a "war of choice" (as in Iraq), Obama has taken ownership of the protracted military engagement he inherited. And his plan to end the combat mission by 2014 is popular. In May, for example, support for the Afghan war hit a new low, with a mere 27 percent of respondents in an Associated Press-Gfk poll backing the military effort. Only 37 percent of Republican respondents said they supported the war, down from 58 percent in 2011.
If Romney softens his stance on the war -- as he briefly did last year when he declared that "it's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, as soon as our generals think it's OK" -- he may anger hawks within the GOP. And if he assumes too aggressive of a posture, he may alienate a war-weary public. Plus, every minute spent talking about Afghanistan is a minute not talking about the economy.
When Romney has discussed Afghanistan, he hasn't offered many specifics. His most consistent argument is that he would shape his withdrawal strategy based on military advice rather than politics or economics. Here's how he addressed the war in his biggest foreign-policy speech so far, at The Citadel in South Carolina in October 2011:
In Afghanistan, after the United States and NATO have withdrawn all forces, will the Taliban find a path back to power? After over a decade of American sacrifice in treasure and blood, will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for terrorists?....
I will order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military to secure that nation's sovereignty from the tyranny of the Taliban. I will speak with our generals in the field, and receive the best recommendation of our military commanders. The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics.
And yet, it may be politics that's keeping Romney from staking out a clearer position on Afghanistan.
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Republicans may be rallying around Mitt Romney at the GOP convention in Tampa, but over in Russia the GOP presidential candidate is getting a far chillier reception.
Romney has been tough on Moscow during the campaign, calling the New START nuclear arms reduction deal Obama's "worst foreign-policy mistake," labeling Russia America's "number one geopolitical foe," and characterizing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a man bent on rebuilding the "Soviet empire." His advisors have echoed these sentiments, as has the Republican platform, which cites "Russian activism" as one of the "gravest threats to our national security" and alludes to a "hot mic" moment between Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as evidence that the president wants to "appease Russia" on missile defense. It's remarkably aggressive rhetoric -- albeit from a party whose most revered figure famously referred to Russia as an "evil empire."
The Russian press was already up in arms about Romney's trip to Poland earlier this month (money quote from the state-funded RT: "the Mormon from Michigan has been time-warped back to the Soviet era, behind an Iron Curtain and inside of a 1950s black-and-white television set"). But the outrage has resurfaced in recent days, as the GOP released its platform and opened its convention.
In an article entitled "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan promise Russia Republican hell," for example, Pravda, which has been known to engage in colorful outbursts against Romney, declares that the GOP ticket supports the "radicalization of the country's foreign policies" -- particularly those concerning Russia. "According to the Republican Party," the newspaper scoffs, the "Russian administration is authoritarian and does not respect human rights.... They refer to Russia as a traditional rival of the United States along with North Korea, Iran and China.... To crown it all, Mitt Romney expressed his willingness to be the godfather of the Russian opposition and organize the training for opposition activists at American educational centers."
Pravda isn't alone. At the state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti, journalist Fyodor Lukyanov observes that "no matter how much you may dislike Russia and its authorities, the time when it was America's enemy number one is long past." In a blistering column for the state-run radio station Voice of Russia, presenter John Robles warns that Romney and his "cold war thinking" will signal the death knell of Obama's "reset" with Russia, and he doesn't stop there:
To say that Romney and his Republican brethren are a danger to world peace would be an understatement. Their "ultra-conservative" views and stances on a number of issues will bring about another era of neo-conservative subjugation for the American people and the world and their backward thinking and confrontational posturing will destroy much of the delicate compromise that has kept the world stable for the last four years....
To listen to Romney and his Republican like and read how they plan to "curb Moscow", "confront Russia", surround Russia with missiles and the like is to get the impression that he is talking about some small third world nation they can just obliterate at any moment and not the largest country on the planet and a formidable nuclear power.
Another Voice of Russia article -- entitled "Republicans choose presidential candidate and external enemies" -- includes an interview with an expert identified as Valey Korovin, the director of the Center for Political Expertise. "It is a fact that Russia and the US are geopolitical opponents," Korovin is quoted as saying. "This logic is based on the confrontation of two kinds of civilizations, and the Republicans openly speak about it. The Democrats think the same but use more roundabout expressions and adhere to the use of soft, smart force. As for Romney, he is only a presidential candidate, so he does not care about beating around the bush and bluntly calls a spade a spade."
The intense focus on Romney's posture toward Russia isn't limited to government-controlled news outlets, either. In a report today on the GOP convention, for instance, the privately owned daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta leads with, "Russia is once again among America's enemies." The business daily Vedomosti highlights a recent Citi report suggesting that a Romney victory in November could batter the Russian stock market and explores what a GOP win would signify more generally for the "reset" and U.S.-Russian relations.
Of course, we don't know whether a President Romney would actually follow through on his Russia rhetoric. As Peter Baker points out in the New York Times today, "the pragmatic dealmaker in Mr. Romney may find that even if he does not want to sign a nuclear arms treaty with Moscow as Mr. Obama did, it is useful to be able to move supplies through Russian territory to Afghanistan."
For now, at least, Romney may want to soak up the moment in Tampa -- and avoid picking up any Russian newspapers.
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Mitt Romney has already gotten in a spot of trouble in London for suggesting that Britain may not be quite ready to host the Olympic Games. Romney has walked back his comments, but it's not the first time the candidate has said some not-so-flattering things about the Sceptered Isle. In his book, No Apology, he writes:
England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth's land and a quarter of the earth's population.
Its roads and houses are small? The trees probably aren't the right height either.
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In an article today, I note that Mitt Romney's trip to Europe and Israel is being treated as entirely normal thing for him to do, while only four years ago, Barack Obama's mid-campaign overseas tour was considered a bizarre and unprecedented stunt.
Prior to 2008, the main example I could find of a candidate heading abroad as part of a presidential campaign was George McGovern's 1971 diplomatic mission to Vietnam, which served mainly to give him a platform to blast the Nixon administration's handling of the war.
However, according to this blog post by Eric Ham of the XII Project, there may be another precedent:
Presidential candidates traveling abroad while also campaigning for the presidency is not a new phenomenon. In fact, these excursions, date back to as far as 1947 when Republican presidential frontrunner, Harold Stassen, took a two-month 18-country tour around Europe in the spring of that year.
Stassen, a former governor of Minnesota, is best known for having unsuccessfully run for president nine times between 1948 and 1992. The 1948 primary, which he lost narrowly to Thomas Dewey who eventually lost to Harry Truman, was the closest he ever came to the Oval Office.
There's doesn't seem to be much information online about Stassen's trip or his itinerary, except for this transcript of an April 9, 1947 conversation with Joseph Stalin. Sample:
Stassen: Generalissimo Stalin, on this European trip I am particularly interested in studying conditions of an economic nature. In this regard, of course, the relations of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. are very important. I realize that we have two economic systems that are very different. The U.S.S.R. with the Communist Party and with its planned economy and socialized collective state, and the United States of America with its free economy and regulated private capitalism are very different. I would be interested to know if you think these two economic systems can exist together in the same modern world in harmony with each other?
Stalin: Of course they can. The difference between them is not important so far as co-operation is concerned. The systems in Germany and the United States are the same but war broke out between them. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. systems are different but we didn’t wage war against each other and the U.S.S.R. does not propose to. If during the war they could co-operate, why can’t they today in peace, given the wish to co-operate? Of course, if there is no desire to co-operate, even with the same economic system they may fall out as was the case with Germany.
So much for that idea.
Talking Points Memo is asking if this is Romney's " first big foreign stumble" and the Obama campaign is sending it out to journalists, but it's not exactly clear who exactly made a gaffe or about what.
Here are some comments made by Romney at a San Francisco fundraiser yesterday, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald:
"I met today with the Foreign Minister of Australia. He said something, and I said 'Can I quote you?' and he said yes. He said, 'America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline,''' Governor Romney told attendees at a fundraiser today.
''And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that, he led the talk of America being in decline. See that's not talk we hear about here as much as they're hearing there. And if they're thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America's in decline they're not gonna do it."
In the AP's telling of the story, the speech claimed that Carr "privately warned Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that foreign leaders see "America in decline." Carr's office has come out to deny that there was any "warning" implied:
But despite headlines today such as ''Mitt Romney Gets Grim Warning From Australian Leader'', a spokesman for Senator Carr says Australia's Foreign Minister was talking up the US economy, not talking it down. That is, any fears that Australia's foreign minister has been overseas criticising a key alliance parnter, would be misplaced.
''That interpretation is not correct,'' the spokesman told The National Times.
Indeed, Senator Carr has used a similar phrase about the US budget before - on people such as former World Bank chief Robert Zoellick - to indicate his belief in the US economy's strengths and potential.
TPM's Josh Marshall interprets this as Carr coming "forward to shoot down Romney’s characterization of the discussion." But it seems like he may be mischaracterizing the statement, which was aimed at the media for mischaracterizing his statement. Or something like that. It's all a bit confusing and a sign of how out-of-hand the campaign gaffe-spotting is getting.
In the end, it seems like a pretty inoccuous statement from both Carr and Romney: Foreign investors would be a lot more enthusiastic about the United States if phrases like "fiscal cliff" weren't such a regular part of its political discourse. Which party is more to blame for this state of affairs is another question.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GettyImages
Former New Hampshire governor and White House Chief of Staff-turned-campaign surrogate John Sununu was doing okay on a conference call with reporters, responding to the Obama campaign's suggestions that Mitt Romney may be guilty of a felony on his tax returns by quipping that Obama "comes out of that murky political world in Chicago where politician and felony has become synonymous." Then things went a bit off the rails:
The call was organized by the Romney aides to attack Obama's handling of the economy, which they argue has stifled job creation and hurt small business. But Sununu seemed to take it a step further, telling reporters at one point, "I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
Asked to clarify his statement, Sununu walked it back, explaining he only meant that he wished Obama would adopt the "American formula" for creating businesses and introducing an environment where "entrepreneurs can thrive."
In other words, Washington now gets to remember who John Sununu is again.
After a few weeks of relative silence on Foreign Policy from the campaign trail, there was a brief and largely unexpected skirmish between the Obama and Romney camps today over just how dangerous Hugo Chavez is. The president started things with remarks to a Miami TV Station about ties between Venezuela and Iran:
“We’re always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe,” Obama told the station, WJAN America TeVe Miami. “But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the past several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.”
Romney immediately saw an opening:
“The idea that this nation, this president, doesn’t pose a national security threat is simply naive and an extraordinary admission on the part of this president to be completely out of touch with what is happening in Latin America,” Romney said of Chavez in an interview Wednesday with Fox News.
The Obama campaign then fired back with a press release:
“Because of President Obama’s leadership, our position in the Americas is much stronger today than before he took office. At the same time, Hugo Chavez has become increasingly marginalized and his influence has waned. It’s baffling that Mitt Romney is so scared of a leader like Chavez whose power is fading, while Romney continues to remain silent about how to confront al-Qaeda or how to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. People like Hugo Chavez want attention – and that’s exactly what Mitt Romney and his supporters gave him today. Governor Romney is only playing into the hands of Chavez by acting like he’s ten feet tall. President Obama has refused to be distracted by the outdated rhetoric of people like Hugo Chavez and instead has focused on restoring our nation’s standing in Latin America, strengthening our partnerships in the region, and standing up for democratic values in Venezuela. It’s disturbing that Mitt Romney is trying to score cheap political points by blustering and misrepresenting the President’s record while failing to outline any coherent foreign policy strategy.”
The Associated Press suggests that this could be a major issue for Florida voters, but I have a feeling that most voters with strong feelings on Latin America policy have probably already made up their minds about who they're voting for.
It's starting to seem like this dynamic is going to play out until November on national security questions. Obama will say something that sounds insufficiently hawkish, Romney will charge him with being weak and naive, the Obama campaign will counter by invoking its counterterrorism record. Insert Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Mexican cartels, or Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
This time, at least, we get the anticipation of Chavez's own response. It will be interesting how the Yanqui hostility/indifference plays out in his own reelection effort. Nothing on Twitter yet.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
"Spiking the football"
As expected, President Barack Obama's campaign is fully capitalizing on the killing of Osama bin Laden in his reelection pitch. An ad released on the one-year anniversary of the Abbottabad raid features former President Bill Clinton praising Obama for having the courage to order the raid and suggesting that Mitt Romney would not have made the same call. Romney pushed back on Monday, saying "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." The ad's release preceded a surprise trip to Afghanistan, during which the president signed a new strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government and addressed the U.S. public from Bagram air base.
Others criticized the Obama campaign for politicizing the issue and "spiking the football" as he had promised not to do in the waking of the killing.. "Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad," said Sen. John McCain. The group Veterans for a Strong America released a response ad, "throwing the penalty flag up on President Obama for excessive celebration." The ad made the case that "Heroes Don't Politicize Their Acts of Valor."
Other commentators have pointed out that Obama is hardly the first president to politicize military success.
The battle over Chen
This week saw a high-stakes standoff in Beijing over the fate of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on the eve of a major U.S.-China summit. In addition to his iconic status in China, Chen enjoys widespread support in the United States, including among prominent anti-abortion members of Congress. After Chen suggested to the media that he had been pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy and had been abandoned by U.S. officials, Romney was quick to respond. "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it's a day of shame for the Obama administration," Romney said during an event with Virginia where he was endorsed by former candidate Michele Bachmann.
Romney was criticized for his response by Weekly Standard editor and prominent neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol, who told Fox News, "To inject yourself into the middle of this way with a fast-moving target I think is foolish."
The United States and China reached a tentative deal on Friday that will allow Chen to leave China.
Romney spokesman steps down
The Romney campaign's newly appointed foreign policy and national security spokesman Richard Grenell stepped down this week. It wasn't Grenell's foreign-policy views that led to his downfall as much as the fact that he's openly gay and supports gay marriage. The appointment of Grenell, who had served as spokesman for former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, came under attack from religious conservatives from the beginning. He also faced criticism from liberals over tweets attacking major democratic political figures.
"While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama's foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign," Grenell said in a statement.
Newt Gingrich officially suspended his campaign this week, but if the Romney camp was hoping for a strong endorsement, they came away disappointed. "As for the presidency, I'm asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative?" Gingrich said in his concession speech at the Arlington Hilton. "And my answer is simple. Compared to Barack Obama? You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in American history."
Though he acknowledged that his staunch support for establishing a colony on the moon may not have done wonders for his campaign, he promised to "cheerfully" recommit himself to the cause. Referring to his grandchildren, he said "I'm not totally certain I will get to the moon colony," he said. "I am certain Maggie and Robert will have that opportunity to go and take it. I think it's almost inevitable on just the sheer scale of technological change."
The latest from FP:
Michael Scheuer makes the case for why Ron Paul would be a great foreign-policy president.
Colum Lynch looks at the guilty schadenfreude at the U.N. over of Grenell's fate.
With Obama attacking Romney over his overseas wealth, Uri Friedman asks whether poor people can open Swiss bank accounts.
Stephen Walt wonders if the Kabul trip will be Obama's "mission accomplished" moment.
Scott Clement says voters are fine with presidential chest-thumping, as long as it's their candidate who's doing the thumping.
Michael Cohen argues that the Bin Laden killing is "the core of [Obama's] reelection prospects."
Everyone seems to be having some fun at the expense of Romney campaign advisor Pierre Prosper, who referred to "Czechoslovakia" when discussing missile defense in a conference call with reporters. Lord knows we've done our share of foreign-policy gaffe-spotting around here and it's fair to expect candidates and their surrogates to understand the global issues they discuss, but this is kind of a cheap shot. I think it's important to emphasize the difference between slips of the tongue and actual displays of ignorance about the world.
Is it really likely that Prosper, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor, State Department staffer, and ambassador-at-large doesn't know Czechoslovakia broke up in 1992? Or is it more reasonable to assume that he simply slipped and said the name that had been in use for the first 40 years of his life? (John McCain also got in trouble with "Czechoslovakia" in 2008.) Similarly, is it more likely that President Obama doesn't know that "Maldives" and "Malvinas" are different places or that he just slipped and mentioned the wrong island chain that starts with Mal-? These errors would get a contestant kicked off "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" but they don't actually tell us much about a candidates' knowledge of the world.
The problem with Herman Cain's Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan moment was not that he can't immediately recall the name of every head of state, it's that he mocked the idea that such knowledge would ever be necessary. Sarah Palin would have deserved a lot more slack for the infamous Katie Couric interview if she had merely mixed up whether Putin was president or prime minister or some such slip. The problem was that she was clearly feigning having any sort of knowledge about the vitally important country right next door.
It's good that we want to test candidates' knowledge of world affairs, but a geography bee isn't the best way to do it. In this election cycle, there will be more than enough actual ignorance to go around.
When Mitt Romney's campaign announced on Thursday that the Republican presidential candidate had hired Richard Grenell, a former Bush administration spokesman at the United Nations, as his foreign policy and national security spokesman, early reports focused on the fact that Grenell is openly gay.
But this afternoon, Politico highlighted another side of Grenell: The man is a prolific tweeter -- one who dishes out zingers to those who get on his bad side, whether they be Newt Gingrich ("what's higher? The number of jobs newt's created or the number of wives he's had?"), Callista Gingrich ("do you think callista's hair snaps on?"), or Rick Santorum ("im rick santorum and gay people should be deported").
As tends to happen in today's compressed news cycle, Grenell has already apologized for "any hurt" his tweets caused, telling Politico that they were meant to be "tongue-in-cheek and humorous" and that he'll remove them from Twitter.
But Grenell hasn't deleted all his scathing comments, many of them related to foreign policy. Here are some of the issues that provoke his anger again and again (as you'll see, there's a lot of overlap). Now that Grenell is Romney's spokesman, we'll probably be hearing these critiques of the Obama administration's foreign policy more and more in the months ahead.
But come on, people. Today's episode is about more than what Grenell thinks of Callista's hair or Newt's marriage life (or, for that matter, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt's eyebrows -- another deleted tweet not mentioned by Politico).
No, the real question is: Why haven't politicos learned by now that you scrub your Twitter feed of all controversial content before you enter the political limelight?
Santorum drops out
Rick Santorum, the last credible rival for the GOP nomination, dropped out of the race on Wednesday leaving a clear path for front-runner and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney. "This game is a long, long, long way from over," Santorum told supporters. "We are going to continue to go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat President Barack Obama." Notably, Santorum did not mention Romney in his concession.
With 651 delegates, Romney may have the contest all wrapped up, but nobody appears to have told Newt Gingrich, who still vows to stay in the race until Romney collects the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. "I want to do what I do best, which is talk about big solutions and big approaches," Gingrich told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I want to keep campaigning." But $4.5 million in debt, Gingrich's campaign suffered a further indignity this week when its $500 check for the filing fee to appear on the Utah primary ballot bounced.
On Thursday night (EDT), North Korea attempted -- but failed -- in an attempt to launch a satellite into orbit. Though the botched launch of the long-range missile, which broke apart before entering orbit, was a humiliation for North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un, it also essentially scuttled a year of diplomatic outreach by the Obama administration, which culminated in a now-nullified deal on Feb. 29 under which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for food aid.
The Romney campaign was quick to respond with a statement saying that the launch demonstrated the "incompetence" and weakness of the Obama administration's foreign policy. "Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived," he said.
A cold shoulder to Brazil
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was in Washington on Monday for a White House meeting with Barack Obama. But in contrast to her fellow BRICS leaders Hu Jintao and Manmohan Singh, arguably the second most powerful leader in the Western hemisphere got only a 2-hour meeting with the president on a day dominated by the White House lawn Easter Egg roll. The Brazilian government has repeatedly criticized Washington for monetary and interest rate policies that they say unfairly advantage U.S. exports and for visa requirements for Brazilian travelers that take up to 35 days to process.
The two leaders will meet again this weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
Public support for the war in Afghanistan has fallen to an all-time low according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, with only 30 percent of respondents saying it has been worth the effort and expenditure. For the first time, a majority of Republicans do not approve of the war. As to the president's leadership, 48 percent of those polled approve of Obama's handling of the war, while 43 percent disapprove. In a sign of an accelerated effort to transfer responsibility to Afghan forces, the United States agreed this week to hand over control of the controversial nighttime raids that were once seen as critical to winning the war.
Romney may have a steep hill to climb if he aims to win the foreign-policy fight in the campaign. New polling shows that voters trust Obama over the GOP frontrunner by a 15 percent margin. Writing for Foreign Policy, Washington Post polling analyst Scott Clement notes that "Romney's weakness on foreign policy doesn't appear to result from Obama's strengths. Americans give Obama middling ratings on international affairs overall: 47 percent approve while 44 percent disapprove."
After the bruising primary, Romney appears to have sketched out a decidedly hawkish platform on foreign policy. Moving into the general election, with Americans increasingly skeptical of military action abroad, it remains to be seen whether the candidate will moderate his views to appear to undecided voters.
What to watch for:
Latin American summits are typically a good showcase for some outlandish behavior. Obama's opponents will likely be on the lookout to see how the president interacts with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He was criticized for embracing the leftist leader in 2009.
The latest from Foreign Policy:
Aaron David Miller says the notion that presidents have more "flexibility" to act in their second terms is a myth.
Will Imboden gives six reasons we should hope Obama's not more flexible.
Daniel Drezner questions Romney's seriousness on foreign policy.
Michael A. Cohen looks at who's leading on the big international issues that will define the contest between Romney and Obama.Joshua E. Keating looks back at the highlights of the Santorum campaign.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
The Presumptive Nominee
After pulling off a hat trick on Tuesday night, winning the primaries in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Wisconsin, Mitt Romney now boasts an unassailable lead in delegates. Barring major unforeseen circumstances, he seems virtually guaranteed to be the Republican candidate in November. (Though second-place contender Rick Santorum -- not to mention Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul -- has given little indication that he plans to drop out.)
His new position as the presumptive nominee may give Romney more latitude to broaden his pitch to moderates and independents and focus his attacks more directly on President Barack Obama. The president certainly assumes that Romney is the opponent he will face in the fall, taking time during a speech this week to mock the former governor's support for a GOP budget he described as right-wing "social Darwinism."
Obama's hidden agenda
The Romney campaign has continued to take advantage of Obama's "hot mic" moment during a conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Last Friday, spokesperson Andrea Saul suggested that the president "should release the notes and transcripts of all his meetings with world leaders so the American people can be satisfied that he's not promising to sell out the country's interests after the election is over."
The notion that the president has a hidden agenda on foreign policy may emerge as a central campaign talking point. In a speech Wednesday to the Newspaper Association of America, Romney suggested that the incident "raises all kinds of serious questions: What exactly does President Obama intend to do differently once he is no longer accountable to the voters? Why does ‘flexibility' with foreign leaders require less accountability to the American people? And on what other issues will he state his true position only after the election is over?"
Release the Biden
Vice President Joe Biden has been relatively quiet during this primary season. But in an appearance on Face The Nation last Sunday, the VP came out swinging, questioning Romney's qualifications on foreign policy. Referring to Romney's description of Russia as America's No. 1 geopolitical foe, Biden said, "He just seems to be uninformed or stuck in a Cold War mentality." He went on to say that Russia is "united with us on Iran."
The Romney campaign responded: "Vice President Biden appears to have forgotten the Russian government's opposition to crippling sanctions on Iran, its obstructionism on Syria, and its own backsliding into authoritarianism."
Good for the Jews?
Heading into Passover weekend, a new poll shows that fears that Obama's tensions with the Israeli government would erode his support among Jewish voters may be unfounded. The poll, by the Public Religion Research Institute, showed 62 percent of Jews supporting Obama's reelection, with little evidence of change in support for the president since 2008. While Jews tend to hold more hawkish views on Iran than other American voters, according to the poll only 2 percent listed it as their top voting priority. Just 4 percent listed Israel.
In a Passover message this week, Obama referred to the recent anti-Semitic killings in France, saying that the Exodus story was a reminder that "Throughout our history, there are those who have targeted the Jewish people for harm, a fact we were so painfully reminded of just a few weeks ago in Toulouse."
Guess who's back? In an appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio show on Tuesday, real estate mogul, reality-show star, and onetime primary candidate Donald Trump suggested that Obama will start a war with Iran to bolster his reelection chances. "If you remember Bush, Bush was unbeatable for about two months, and then all of the sudden the world set in when he attacked Iraq. And he went from very popular to not popular at all. But I think that Obama will start in some form a war with Iran, and I think that will make him very popular for a short period of time. That will make him hard to beat also."
The comment was somewhat overshadowed the next day when the Donald offered to show his genitals to attorney Gloria Allred.
What to watch for:
There are no primaries this week, but Romney is looking ahead to the April 24 contest in Pennsylvania, trying to put the final nail in Santorum's coffin by winning his home state.
The latest from FP:
Joshua Keating lists 7 foreign-policy flip-flops Romney needs to make now.
Heleen Mees says Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke might be the greatest obstacle to Obama's reelection.
Uri Friedman looks at the foreign-policy views of Rep. Paul Ryan, whose buzz as a possible VP contender has been growing.
Daniel Drezner asks readers to take the Trump Foreign Policy Challenge.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Update: On Aug. 11, Mitt Romney named Ryan as his running mate.
If you believe the buzz among political pundits this week, Mitt Romney may have not just picked up a primary win and endorsement from Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) in Wisconsin. He may have found a running mate. The Washington Post's Philip Rucker notes that Ryan, in what smacked of a VP tryout, appeared by Romney's "side at every turn" in Wisconsin, while the Washington Examiner's Charlie Spiering highlights a recent speech in which Ryan sounds very much like a vice presidential candidate -- conjuring up memories of "flipping burgers at McDonald's" and "waiting tables to pay back my student loans" in a paean to the American dream.
Other political analysts are arguing that whether or not Romney puts Ryan on the ticket, President Obama may run as much against the Wisconsin congressman -- the architect of the House Republican budget plan -- as against Romney. On Tuesday, Obama declared that the budget proposal, which would slash $5.3 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, would pit rich against poor in what amounted to "social Darwinism."
As the campaign spotlight lingers on Ryan, it's worth pointing out that the House Budget Committee chairman isn't a one-trick pony. Sure, he's styled himself as an intellectual leader on fiscal policy. But he has a distinct worldview as well. Here are some of the components of the other Ryan plan.
In the wake of Ryan's foreign policy address last year, Matthew Yglesias argued in the American Prospect that Ryan seemed to subscribe to "more or less the liberal internationalist vision that's already at the core" of the Obama administration's approach. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait mocked Ryan's "Norquistian-Churchillian foreign policy." The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin wrote that Ryan was one of the few politicians who could draw a connection between "conservative economic principles and American foreign policy and values."
Ryan's worldview, in other words, appears to be a bit of a Rorschach test. And in a general election where appealing solely to the Republican base just won't cut it, that might be exactly what Romney needs.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Romney's camp seems to be pushing its luck with the aftermath of last week's "hot mic" incident judging by this response to a request from the Obama campaign for the candidate's tax records from his time at Bain capital:
“The Obama campaign is playing politics, just as he’s doing in his conduct of foreign policy," Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul wrote. "Obama should release the notes and transcripts of all his meetings with world leaders so the American people can be satisfied that he’s not promising to sell out the country’s interests after the election is over.”
The argument that all statecraft should be conducted in public so that voters can be sure there's nothing nefarious going on is a pretty impractical one, as quite a few people pointed out when WikiLeaks was making it. (Romney described the WikiLeaks CableGate release as "treason" for what it's worth.)
But questions of practicality aside, it's tempting to wonder just what might be in those transcripts -- or what Romney hopes is in them:
Obama: Mahmoud, I've got to keep up this sanctions stuff until the election. Then I'll get you those centrifuges.
Ahmadinejad: I will transmit this information to the Supreme Leader.
Obama: It's an election season, Hu. You know I've got to talk tough. Next year, I promise I'll get you those 100,000 American jobs I promised.
Hu: I will transmit this information to Xi.
Obama: Stephen, this Keystone stuff is just until November. Then we open up the border and roll out the plan for the Amero.
Harper: I will transmit this information to the NAFTA supercouncil.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
This week, the campaign was unexpectedly dominated by a debate over Russia policy. The back-and-forth was sparked by an embarrassing "hot mic" incident on Monday at a summit on Seoul, when President Barack Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "space" to tackle controversial issues such as missile defense after the election. "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," he told the outgoing Russian leader, who promised to "transmit this information to Vladimir."
Mitt Romney was quick to seize on the incident to bolster his argument that Obama has ignored the security threat posed by Russia. He went a bit over the top with the rhetoric, however, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "this is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world's worst actors, the idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
Democrats -- and a few Republicans -- disputed the notion that Russia is the nation's primary foe. "You don't have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the Cold War ended 20 years ago and that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al Qaeda," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Romney doubled down on his charge against the president with an op-ed in Foreign Policy, writing that "In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness -- and given the word ‘flexibility' a new and ominous meaning."
A group of Romney's senior advisors also published an open-letter on the website of the National Review detailing a list of the president's main foreign policy failings. The Obama campaign's senior foreign policy advisors pushed pushed back with a letter to Romney published in FP demanding that Romney "clarify exactly how and why you would depart from many of President Obama's policies."
Romney even got into it with Medvedev himself this week. The Russian president said the candidate's rhetoric "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch" to see that it's no longer the 1970s. The Romney campaign struck back with a press release calling him "President Medvedev (D-Russia)" and accusing him of "campaigning for Obama."
Santorum's Jelly Belly foreign policy
Rick Santorum chose an unusual venue on Thursday for a national security-focused address meant to reinvigorate his struggling campaign: The Jelly Belly headquarters in Fairfield, California. Attempting to associate himself with the foreign-policy acumen of GOP icon and famous jellybean fiend Ronald Reagan, Santorum made the case that "Of all of the failings of this administration, of all of the failings, perhaps the greatest is on national security."
Santorum also seized on the hot mic gaffe: "Ronald Reagan didn't whisper to Gorbachev, ‘Give me some flexibility.... He walked out of Iceland and said, ‘You either do this, or we have no deal.'"
H.W. goes all in
While Santorum while trying to channel the Gipper, his vice-president and successor George H.W. Bush officially endorsed Romney -- no surprise as he had publicly praised the candidate earlier in the race and his son Jeb endorsed last week. The 87-year-old (mis)quoted Kenny Rogers when asked about Romney's rivals, saying, ‘It's time when to hold ‘em and time when to fold ‘em."
The meeting raised questions as to when George W. Bush will make an endorsement in the race. "I haven't met with President George W. Bush. We speak from time to time," Romney said.
Newt loses his sugar daddy
The struggling campaign of Newt Gingrich, who has won only South Carolina and his home state of Georgia so far, has been kept afloat by the largesse of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The staunch Israel hawk has donated over $20 million to Gingrich's Super PAC. It appears, however, that Adelson's generosity has its limits. Speaking at the Jewish Federations of North America's annual TribeFest conference in Las Vegas this week, the billionaire said this week that Gingrich may be "at the end of the line" since mathematically, "he can't get anywhere near the number" of delegates needed. Adelson has reportedly been reaching out to supporters of the Romney campaign.
Gingrich, the onetime frontrunner, laid off one-third of his staff this week.
Is Paul coming around to Romney?
Ron Paul, currently running in fourth place with a total of 50 delegates in the bag, has previously suggested that foreign policy might be an obstacle to him throwing his support behind Romney. This week, however, Paul paid the frontrunner the mildest of compliments in an interview with Bloomberg television: "I think Mitt Romney is more likely to be more willing to listen to his advisers.... If he decides he wants to go and bomb Iran, maybe he might listen to somebody else. I'm afraid the other [candidates] would just go do it anyway."
What to watch for:
Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia hold primaries on Tuesday. Romney is favored to win all three contests. (Santorum isn't on the ballot in D.C.)
After that, it's a long wait until a set of five northeastern primaries on April 23. Santorum's Gotterdämmerung may very well come in his home state of Pennsylvania, where the latest polls show him in a statistical dead heat with Romney.
The latest from FP:
Romney's Russia op-ed.
The Obama campaign's response.
Scott Clement says that Americans really don't think of Russia as an enemy anymore.
Daniel Drezner on the dirty, little secret of second-term presidents.
Michael Cohen argues the president's real constitutional overreach wasn't healthcare, it was Libya.
In honor of Santorum's Jelly Belly address, Uri Friedman recaps the year in political food fights.
The once proud Communist Party propaganda arm-turned-supermarket tabloid/LOL-aggregator unloads on the GOP frontrunner:
Electing Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States of America would be like appointing a serial paedophile as a kindergarten teacher, a rapist as a janitor at a girls' dormitory or a psychopath with a fixation on knives as a kitchen hand. His comments on Russia are a puerile attempt at making the grand stage and boy, did he blow it...
Romney's "number one geopolitical foe" remark seems to be bringing out the best in Russian official bombast:
...Public Chamber Foreign Affairs working group head Alexander Sokolov [compared] him to one of the “Marlboro men, those so-called cool guys, for whom only America’s interests exist and all other countries are potential enemies – or at best, rivals.”
Even the normally staid Dmitry Medvedev said Romney's remark "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch": “It’s 2012, not the middle of the 1970s,”
Romney reiterated his attacks on the president's open-mic incident in a piece for FP yesterday, in which he said, "It is not an accident that Mr. Medvedev is now busy attacking me. The Russians clearly prefer to do business with the current incumbent of the White House."
Obama's foreign-policy advisors responded here.
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