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Mitt Romney channels Condi Rice in foreign-policy address

Mitt Romney may not have unveiled many new policy proposals in his foreign-policy address on Monday, but he did roll out a number of sound bites, including "hope is not a strategy." And one line in particular sounded quite familiar:

There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East-and it is not unique to that region. It is broadly felt by America's friends and allies in other parts of the world as well- in Europe, where Putin's Russia casts a long shadow over young democracies, and where our oldest allies have been told we are "pivoting" away from them ... in Asia and across the Pacific, where China's recent assertiveness is sending chills through the region ... and here in our own hemisphere, where our neighbors in Latin America want to resist the failed ideology of Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers and deepen ties with the United States on trade, energy, and security. But in all of these places, just as in the Middle East, the question is asked:  "Where does America stand?"

In her well-received Republican convention speech, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the question "Where does America stand?" a central theme of her remarks:

And we have seen once again that the desire for freedom is universal - as men and women in the Middle East demand it.  Yet, the promise of the Arab Spring is engulfed in uncertainty; internal strife and hostile neighbors are challenging the fragile democracy in Iraq; dictators in Iran and Syria butcher their own people and threaten the security of the region; China and Russia prevent a response; and all wonder,  "Where does America stand?"

Indeed that is the question of the moment- "Where does America stand?" When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question - clearly and unambiguously - the world is a chaotic and dangerous place.  The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer - we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them - we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom.

Romney continued to echo Rice in his subsequent statements, acknowledging that Americans have a touch of leadership fatigue but warning that America's enemies would eagerly fill the void if the United States leads "from behind" or fails to lead at all:

I know many Americans are asking a different question: "Why us?" I know many Americans are asking whether our country today-with our ailing economy, and our massive debt, and after 11 years at war-is still capable of leading. 

I believe that if America does not lead, others will-others who do not share our interests and our values-and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years.  I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America's great influence-wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively-to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better-not perfect, but better. 

Here's Rice:

And I know too that there is weariness - a sense that we have carried these burdens long enough. But if we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen - no one will lead and that will foster chaos -- or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum. My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead - and one cannot lead from behind.

I've noted before that Rice's record differs sharply from Romney's campaign rhetoric on issues such as foreign aid, U.S.-Russian relations, North Korea's nuclear program, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when it comes to a sweeping, high-level critique of the Obama administration's foreign policy, Romney apparently believes that Rice got it just right.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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The critiques of Romney's foreign policy are just as incoherent as Romney's foreign policy

As my colleague Dan Drezner notes today, excerpts released ahead of Mitt Romney's big foreign-policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute this morning suggest that the Republican candidate isn't going to be rolling out much new policy content in his address. The problem, Drezner adds, is that Romney's rhetoric on international affairs has been pretty opaque so far:

If one pushes past the overheated rhetoric, then you discover that Romney wants a lot of the same ends as Barack Obama -- a stable, peaceful and free Middle East, for example.  But that's not shocking -- any major party president will want the same ends.  The differenes are in the means through which a president will achieve those ends.  And -- in op-ed after op-ed, in speech after speech -- Romney either elides the means altogether, mentions means that the Obama administration is already using, or just says the word "resolve" a lot.  That's insufficient. 

But if Romney's foreign-policy views have been incoherent, the Obama campaign's criticisms of Romney's positions have been no less perplexing. Simply put, team Obama can't seem to decide whether the president's challenger is the second coming of Barack Obama or George W. Bush -- or a different beast entirely: a blundering buffoon or possibly an inveterate flip-flipper.

These contradictions are on full display in a memo that Obama foreign-policy advisors Michèle Flournoy and Colin Kahl sent out in advance of Romney's speech. 

First, Flournoy and Kahl paint Romney as the second coming of George W. Bush (but worse and outside the "mainstream"):

Mitt Romney has, throughout this campaign, raised more questions than answers about what he'd actually do as President. He supported the Iraq war and said that removing all of our troops from Iraq was "tragic," he called Russia - not al-Qaeda - our "number one geopolitical foe," and he said that he wouldn't have set a timeline to end the war in Afghanistan. Those aren't policies, those are misguided talking points - and the American people deserve more from someone running to be commander-in-chief.

Today's latest effort to reboot and reset the Romney foreign policy doesn't change the fact that he's repeatedly taken positions outside of the mainstream and often to the right of even George W. Bush. This isn't surprising. After all, Romney is advised by the same people who were responsible for some of the worst foreign policy failures in American history, including the Iraq War. And now he wants to take us back to the same with-us-or-against-us approach that got us into wars without getting us out of them.

Then as the second coming of Barack Obama:

For example, Governor Romney still can't say what he'd do differently on Iran other than taking us to war. He continues to criticize the President's timeline in Afghanistan even while saying he'd pursue it as President. His position on Libya has no credibility since he's been both for and against our Libya policy. And he offers no way forward on Syria other than suggesting that the United States should get more deeply involved in the conflict without defining a strategy.

And then as an inveterate flip-flopper. (In a statement on Sunday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith noted that Romney has "erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for.")

The bar is high for Governor Romney during his speech today. After six previous chances, it is up to him to finally clear it. Because while the American people can trust Barack Obama's strong record of winding down wars and decimating al-Qaeda, Mitt Romney has repeatedly shown that he has no idea what he'd actually do as commander-in-chief. In today's complicated world, that's just not good enough.

In a new ad today attacking Romney for his gaffe-filled overseas tour this summer and response to the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the Obama campaign promotes the fourth persona: the blundering buffoon. "If this is how he handles the world now, just think what Mitt Romney would do as president," the narrator declares. (As Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Sunday, "This is the same guy who, when he went overseas on his trip, the only person who has offended Europe more is probably Chevy Chase.")

The many-headed caricature of Romney that emerges reminds of the criticisms that Obama and Senator John Kerry leveled at the GOP candidate during the Democratic convention. Here's Kerry:

So on one side of this campaign, we have a president who has made America lead like America again. What is there on the other side? An extreme and expedient candidate, who lacks the judgment and vision so vital in the Oval Office. The most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.

It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position. He was against setting a date for withdrawal-then he said it was right-and then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was "tragic" to leave Iraq, and then he said it was fine. He said we should've intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to duck reporters' questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a "better place" because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it before you were against it!

Mr. Romney-here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!

"President Mitt Romney"-three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer. For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission-it was a blooper reel.

But a Romney-Ryan foreign policy would be anything but funny. Every president of both parties for 60 years has worked for nuclear arms control-but not Mitt Romney. Republican secretaries of state from Kissinger to Baker, Powell to Rice, President Bush, and 71 United States senators all supported President Obama's New Start treaty. But not Mitt Romney. He's even blurted out the preposterous notion that Russia is our "number one geopolitical foe." Folks: Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska; Mitt Romney talks like he's only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.

Mitt Romney is an inexperienced flip-flopper who is comically inept on the world stage. But in all seriousness, folks, he's dangerous.

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