What Romney lacked in specific foreign policy proposals, he made up for in skewering President Obama for his retreat from the world and the unmitigated disaster of seeing the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt and Islamic extremists running wild across the Middle East.
I want to be very clear: The blame for the murder of our people in Libya, and the attacks on our embassies in so many other countries, lies solely with those who carried them out—no one else. But it is the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history—not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events. Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama.
At times, Romney seemed to be channeling George Bush and his “freedom agenda”:
This is the struggle that is now shaking the entire Middle East to its foundation. It is the struggle of millions and millions of people—men and women, young and old, Muslims, Christians and non-believers—all of whom have had enough of the darkness. It is a struggle for the dignity that comes with freedom, and opportunity, and the right to live under laws of our own making. It is a struggle that has unfolded under green banners in the streets of Iran, in the public squares of Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen, and in the fights for liberty in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Libya, and now Syria. In short, it is a struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.
“Hope is not a strategy,’’ Romney said. But, as James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations told Politico:
If Romney has a foreign policy strategy, he still has not told us what it is. The governor is very fond of saying hope is not a strategy, but that cuts both ways. He didn’t answer two key questions: what he would do differently and why we should expect what he would do to work.
Since the president’s pronouncements on foreign affairs have been filled with even more empty platitudes — “Osama is dead,” “the tide of war is receding” — it shouldn’t bother Romney that his lack of specifics is being criticized by people who don’t agree with him anyway.
If all Romney had to accomplish in his speech at VMI was appear presidential while reminding voters of what is going on in the Middle East with Obama’s failures significantly endangering our friends and American interests, he far exceeded expectations. As for the debate, the townhall format favors the president, but Obama will likely be on the defensive on Israel, Iran, and the revolt in Syria. And while the press has probably already written the “comeback kid” stories about Obama’s miraculous turnaround in the upcoming debate, Romney doesn’t have to “win” in any real sense. Occupying the same space with the president and talking knowledgeably about foreign affairs while avoiding a serious gaffe should be sufficient for the GOP candidate to hold his own.
Foreign policy has not been a major issue in a presidential campaign since 2004 and even then was not a big determinant in the campaign. One would have to go back to the Cold War to recall a time when the voter saw electing a president competent in foreign policy as literally a life-and-death decision and when a candidate like Barack Obama would have been laughed off the stage for his pretensions to foreign policy expertise. The voters never would have taken a chance on such a greenhorn.
But this is 2012 and we’ve had nearly four years of greenhorn management of our foreign affairs. To paraphrase the ultimate campaign question, is the world better off today than it was four years ago?
To millions who have been waiting for American leadership to help bring order out of chaos and light the way to peace through the current darkness, the answer is change can’t come soon enough.
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