Daniel W. Drezner

Meet the new Romney foreign policy speech… same as the old Romney foreign policy speech?

Meet the new Romney foreign policy speech… same as the old Romney foreign policy speech?

I’ve had my fair share of disagreements with Danielle Pletka in the past, but I liked her well-crafted New York Times op-ed on what Romney needs to say today on foreign policy a great deal.  In particular: 

For an American public fixated on the economy, another Romney valedictory on the advantages of not being Barack Obama will be a waste of time. Americans feel more comfortable when they have a sense of the candidate’s vision, because it gives them a clearer road map for the future….

Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. Worse yet, they betray the same robotic antipathy that animated Bush-haters. “I will not apologize for America” is no more a clarion call than “let’s nation-build at home.”

Mr. Romney must put flesh on the bones of his calls for a renewed American greatness. With a vision for American power, strategically and judiciously applied, we can continue to do great things with fewer resources. The nation’s greatest strength is not its military power or fantastic productivity. It’s the American commitment to our founding principles of political and economic freedom. If Mr. Romney can outline to voters how he will use American power to advance those principles, he will go a long way in persuading them he deserves the job of commander in chief.

This gets to the nub of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy problem.  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. 

Unfortunately, the pre-speech indicators suggest that Team Romney is ignoring Pletka’s advice.  Ineeed, if CNN’s excerpts of Romney’s big foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute today are any indication, there’s almost no new policy content in this speech. 

I’ll check back in after the speech, but David Sanger’s NYT front-pager today about how the Romney team is managing the foreign policy side of things is pretty dispiriting: 

[W]hile the theme Mr. Romney plans to hit the hardest in his speech at V.M.I. — that the Obama era has been one marked by “weakness” and the abandonment of allies — has political appeal, the specific descriptions of what Mr. Romney would do, on issues like drawing red lines for Iran’s nuclear program and threatening to cut off military aid to difficult allies like Pakistan or Egypt if they veer away from American interests, sound at times quite close to Mr. Obama’s approach….

And the speech appears to glide past positions Mr. Romney himself took more than a year ago, when he voiced opposition to expanding the intervention in Libya to hunt down Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi with what he termed insufficient resources. He called it “mission creep and mission muddle,” though within months Mr. Qaddafi was gone. And last spring, Mr. Romney was caught on tape telling donors he believed there was “just no way” a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could work.

Mr. Romney’s Monday speech calls vaguely for support of Libya’s “efforts to forge a lasting government” and to pursue the “terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans.” And he said he would “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security” with Israel. But he does not say what resources he would devote to those tasks.

The shifts, a half dozen of Mr. Romney’s advisers said in interviews, partly reflect the fact that the candidate himself has not deeply engaged in these issues for most of the campaign, certainly not with the enthusiasm, and instincts, he has on domestic economic issues. But they also represent continuing divisions.

Two of Mr. Romney’s advisers said he did not seem to have the strong instincts that he has on economic issues; he resonates best, one said, to the concept of “projecting strength” and “restoring global economic growth.” But he has appeared unconcerned about the widely differing views within his own campaign about whether spreading American-style freedoms in the Middle East or simply managing, and limiting, the rise of Islamist governments should be a major goal.

Simply put, if Mitt Romney can’t demonstrate leadership and resolve in commanding the foreign policy camps that are participating in his campaign, I’m somewhat dubious that he can do the same with either Russia or China. 

Am I missing anything?