The once shoe-in favorite for the GOP presidential nomination Mitt Romney has been taking a beating lately — from his own supporters and advisers. Much of the criticism centers on Romney’s policies in various parts of Asia. Just this week, Romney supporter Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) parted ways with his candidate of choice on whether to enter into talks with the Taliban, with McCain supporting the Obama administration’s position. But a much more significant gulf may be opening up between Romney and his camp on China, particularly about his strident criticisms of Obama’s “pivot.”
Last week, Romney wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece blasting Obama’s Asia policy, particularly on China (albeit while misrepresenting said Obama policy). That afternoon on MSNBC, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who endorsed Romney after dropping his own presidential bid, said Romney’s China policies were “wrongheaded” and that he “would disagree with what some of what Governor Romney said.”
Now, a top Romney foreign policy adviser — not merely a supporter — has come out and praised Obama’s Asia policy, particularly his work on China. Appearing on the Colbert Report to promote his book, neoconservative Brookings scholar Robert Kagan, an Iraq hawk who advises the Romney campaign, said Obama “has a good policy in Asia, particularly in dealing with China”:
COLBERT: How can you advise Romney and like anything the President does?
KAGAN: I think that when the president does the right thing, it doesn’t matter what party you’re in, you should be supportive.
COLBERT: Killing bin laden doesn’t count. Killing Awlaki doesn’t count. Killing Qaddafi doesn’t count. Supporting the Arab Spring doesn’t count. So what else has he done?
KAGAN: Well, I think he’s done some things wrong. I think he has a good policy in Asia, particularly in dealing with China. I think he’s strengthened our position in Asia with our allies. On some issues I think he’s been a lot weaker.
Watch the video, starting at the four-minute mark:
Kagan’s assessment that Obama has “strengthened our position in Asia with our allies” flies in the face of what Romney said in his Wall Street Journal piece. The GOP candidate wrote:
[Obama] has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia… The supposed pivot has been oversold and carries with it an unintended consequence: It has left our allies with the worrying impression that we left the region and might do so again.
But maybe no one should be surprised that Kagan is a fan of some Obama policies. After all, the feeling seems to be mutual. Last month, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin and the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote that Obama spoke effusively about Kagan’s essay in the New Republic (also here) about “the myth of American decline.”