The case for vagueness

The case for vagueness

Mitt Romney often gets dinged for putting very little meat on the bones of his foreign policy, and Monday was no exception — one of the dominant themes of his critics is that his big Virginia Military Institute address offered very few spefic clues as to what he’d do differently than Barack Obama.

But so what? Putting aside the moral question of whether American voters have a right to know what they’re buying, why should Romney offer any specifics that the Obama campaign will just attack anyway? It makes sense for him to be vague now so that he can maximize his flexibility while in office — and avoid damaging intraparty smackdowns on foreign policy while’s he’s trying to win an election. I doubt in any case that voters would punish him for not offering the sorts of wonkish, nuanced positions on Laotian trade tariffs and the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that Washington foreign-policy hands tend to demand.

That said, Romney has offered more specifics than many of his critics will let on. He’s promising to see that the Syrian rebels get their hands on weapons they can use to take out Bashar al-Assad’s planes and helicopters. He’s vowing to stop Iran from having the capability to develop nuclear weapons, vice Obama’s promise to stop Iran from weaponizing. He’s not going to re-invade Iraq. And he’s more or less conceded that Obama’s 2014 withdrawal date in Afghanistan is appropriate.

These are actually fairly significant matters of war and peace we’re talking about here, and Romney has been just about as forthcoming as any nominee would be in his position.