- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
My, isn’t this awkward. Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski stumbled across a copy of John McCain’s 200-page opposition research file on Mitt Romney from the 2008 presidential campaign, which will now undoubtedly be pored over by President Barack Obama’s campaign staff for useful nuggets to trip up Romney in the 2012 campaign.
The 20-page section of the oppo file lays the foundation for attacking Romney as a John Kerry-esque flip-flopper — and one with fewer foreign policy chops. It accuses Romney of choosing his stands either because they proved politically expedient, or because he was woefully uninformed on the issues and simply stumbled into new positions.
As befits a document written in 2008, much of the research focuses on Romney’s positions toward the Iraq war — material unlikely to be of much use to the Obama campaign, given the conclusion of the war. But there is some grist in there for those who would paint Romney as a world-class waffler: In June 2007, for example, he answered a question about whether the Iraq war was a mistake by attacking the question as "a non-sequitur…or a null set" and an "unreasonable hypothetical."
But while Iraq has faded from the U.S. political agenda, concerns about what to do about Iran have only increased. In 2007, Romney said that a U.S. military attack on Iran is "not going to happen" — perhaps that’s a line we’ll soon be seeing in a Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich commercial. There’s also the issue of Romney’s supposed business entanglements in the Islamic Republic: In 2002, Bain Capital, the company he co-founded, purchased a chemicals business SigmaKalon, which had an office in Tehran. But that seems to be a thin reed, as Romney had long ago left Bain at the time of the purchase, and was on the verge of being elected governor of Massachusetts.
Romney’s gaffes make for some of the document’s most entertaining reading. He seems to have a particularly difficult time connecting with Cuban-Americans: During one event in Miami, he repeated a phrase, "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome," which was the traditional sign-off of Fidel Castro’s speeches. He also referred to rising GOP star Marco Rubio as "Mario" and echoed a line from the movie Scarface in a speech to Cuban-Americans during the same trip.
That’s embarrassing, but not likely to do serious damage to the Romney machine. If Obama or Romney’s GOP rivals are looking for a silver bullet, it’s not going to be in his foreign-policy pronouncements.