The New York Times published two articles this weekend highlighting the disarray that is Mitt Romney’s foreign policy positions. Romney not only appears “out of touch,” for example, on his Russia policy and “all over the map” on the war in Afghanistan, but also, the former Massachusetts governor has demonstrated a “perplexing pattern,” the Times reported, of being at odds with many of his own foreign policy advisers.
Moreover, seeming to concede President Obama’s dominance of national security issues this campaign season, a Romney adviser told the Times that Romney isn’t interested in talking about foreign policy. “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office,” the adviser said.
And there’s good reason. Romney’s inexperience on foreign policy and national security issues has dogged his campaign with confusion, ignorance and private and public disagreements among Romney’s campaign advisers and surrogates:
Romney has been “all over the map” on Afghanistan. As the Washington Post reported late last year, Romney “has not explained what he thinks the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is at this point and what would constitute success.” And keeping with his adviser’s above statement, Romney said in a major foreign policy speech that he’d wait until he becomes president to “order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military.”
Romney also says that the U.S. should not be negotiating with the Taliban, a position that puts him at odds with his top national security campaign surrogate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), his own advisers and even former top Bush administration officials. “Romney’s supporters and foreign policy advisers argue that after a decade at war, the only option is a political settlement,” the Times noted.
Romney said that if Obama is re-elected, Iran will get a nuclear weapon. “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said. That line “caused some of his advisers to cringe” the Times reported this weekend. But overall, again, Romney has no real policy on Iran that differs much from the current administration’s approach. Romney has proposed much of what Obama is already doing. The Times noted that “when pressed on how, exactly, his strategy would differ from Mr. Obama’s, Mr. Romney had a hard time responding.”
But Romney does occasionally ramp up bellicose rhetoric on Iran which prompted a former Israeli Mossad director to say the former Massachusetts governor “is making the situation worse” with Iran. Romney has ignored what the IAEA, U.S. and Israeli intelligence think about Iran’s nuclear program and his campaign advisers even attacked the Obama administration for public discussion of the consequences of attacking Iran.
Russia “is without question, our number one geopolitical foe,” Romney said in March. The Washington Post called the remark “a bit puzzling,” given Russia’s post-Cold War global standing and less adversarial relationship with the United States. Even McCain seemed a bit wary of endorsing that point of view.
And the co-chairman of the Romney campaign’s working group Russia, Leon Aron, disagrees with Romney’s contention that, as the Times put it, “natural resources could vault Russia to a position of global influence rivaling any nation by midcentury.” Aron wrote last month that “Russia’s most serious risk stems from a near-fatal dependence on the price of oil.”
Romney’s regularly hypes the Chinese military threat and ignores the need for engaging China diplomatically and economically. In fact, former GOP presidential candidate and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who declared himself a Romney supporter, said that Romney’s China policy is “wrongheaded.” Even one of Romney’s top foreign policy advisers praised President Obama on China. “I think he has a good policy in Asia, particularly in dealing with China,” said Robert Kagan.
While Romney often throws out the baseless attack line that Obama has thrown Israel “under the bus,” the presumptive GOP nominee has offered no real plan to achieve peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In fact, Romney has said that the U.S. “should not play the role of leader” in the Middle East peace process. “My inclination is to follow the guidance of our ally Israel,” he said last October.
Romney criticized Newt Gingrich for saying Palestinians aren’t people, but again, he said he’d ask the Israelis what his position would be. “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’” Former U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration Martin Indyk said that statement implied that he would “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”
The Romney campaign has attacked President Obama for not doing enough for the nation’s veterans, yet Romney has no plan to address various issues affecting the U.S. military — for example, veterans’ health care and unemployment or servicemembers’ education.
In 2007 and 2008, Romney based his national security policy during his failed presidential bid on the need to fight “radical jihad” and the threat from those wanting to unite the world “under a single Islamic caliphate.” During that campaign, Romney also said he does “not concur” with then Sen. Obama’s plan to go after “high-value intelligence targets” in Pakistan with or without permission. And referring to Osama bin Laden, Romney said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
But now, Romney barely mentions terrorism, jihadists or an Islamic caliphate and claims that “of course” he would have done what Obama did and ordered the raid that killed the al Qaeda leader last year. “Any thinking American” would have ordered the raid, Romney said. Apparently “any thinking American” does not include Vice President Biden and Robert Gates, who was Defense Secretary at the time of the raid.
The Times also reported this weekend that Romney’s foreign policy advisers — many of whom helped push for the Iraq war and are now doing the same with Iran — are themselves divided. “There are two very different worldviews in this campaign,” on adviser said. Some of the more mainstream views within the campaign have resulted from “the scar tissue they developed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Bush-era experiments in the exercise of American power.” But there also remains the more hawkish “Bolton faction,” referring to former Bush administration ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.
So it’s clear why Romney doesn’t want to engage on foreign policy and national security issues in this year’s presidential campaign: his advisers don’t agree with him or each other. And Romney either doesn’t have any national security policies, they aren’t different from President Obama’s, or as recent polling has suggested, they aren’t very popular.