Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

The incredible shrinking democratic critique

The Obama campaign has levied more than its fair share of bogus critiques of Governor Romney and the Republicans. Already in 2011, one of their favorite critiques won the dubious distinction of being Politifact’s “lie of the year.” Alas, the lie of year in 2011 has a chance of defending the title in 2012 what ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The Obama campaign has levied more than its fair share of bogus critiques of Governor Romney and the Republicans. Already in 2011, one of their favorite critiques won the dubious distinction of being Politifact’s “lie of the year.” Alas, the lie of year in 2011 has a chance of defending the title in 2012 what with the extreme response to Paul Ryan. And 2012 has seen a steady parade of charges, each more absurd than the last: Governor Romney is guilty of a felony, Governor Romney never paid taxes, Governor Romney causes people to die from cancer, Governor Romney hates puppies.

Yet, for my money, the charge that takes the greatest chutzpah for an Obama supporter to offer with a straight face is the claim that Governor Romney has insufficient experience and qualifications to be Commander-in-Chief. I might listen respectfully to someone who argued that Senator Obama was unqualified in 2008 and now in 2012 wants to say Governor Romney is unqualified, too. Perhaps someone like that exists and, if so, perhaps a reader could direct me thither.

But it takes a special kind of blinkered partisan to have touted the national security qualifications of the junior senator from Illinois (not quite through his first term in office) and now to question the preparedness of the former Governor of Massachusetts. And yet such blinkered partisanship abounds today, and even makes occasional appearances at FP.com. Consider two recent examples.

The Obama campaign has levied more than its fair share of bogus critiques of Governor Romney and the Republicans. Already in 2011, one of their favorite critiques won the dubious distinction of being Politifact’s “lie of the year.” Alas, the lie of year in 2011 has a chance of defending the title in 2012 what with the extreme response to Paul Ryan. And 2012 has seen a steady parade of charges, each more absurd than the last: Governor Romney is guilty of a felony, Governor Romney never paid taxes, Governor Romney causes people to die from cancer, Governor Romney hates puppies.

Yet, for my money, the charge that takes the greatest chutzpah for an Obama supporter to offer with a straight face is the claim that Governor Romney has insufficient experience and qualifications to be Commander-in-Chief. I might listen respectfully to someone who argued that Senator Obama was unqualified in 2008 and now in 2012 wants to say Governor Romney is unqualified, too. Perhaps someone like that exists and, if so, perhaps a reader could direct me thither.

But it takes a special kind of blinkered partisan to have touted the national security qualifications of the junior senator from Illinois (not quite through his first term in office) and now to question the preparedness of the former Governor of Massachusetts. And yet such blinkered partisanship abounds today, and even makes occasional appearances at FP.com. Consider two recent examples.

Exhibit A: Wes Clark claims, “[Romney] doesn’t bring any real national security experience to the issues at hand. He doesn’t have any foreign-policy experience. He has less foreign policy experience than Senator Obama had when he ran.” This is the kind of nonsense one expects to hear from a reality TV host, not from a serious observer of the national security challenges we face today. Oh, wait a minute…

Exhibit B: Michael Cohen blogs that Romney’s pick of Ryan shows that he neither understands nor cares about foreign policy. Cohen neatly elides over the obvious comparison with a delicious hand-wave — “say what you will about Obama’s foreign-policy expertise when he ran for president in 2007 and 2008…” Yes, what about that expertise that seemed unimportant in 2008 when Obama was running against a war hero who had made national security policy a life-long focus, but should now be uppermost when Obama is facing Romney? Cohen’s answer is that Obama was right to oppose the Iraq war, which makes him vastly superior to everyone who supported it (people like Obama’s choice for VP, for instance, who, according to Cohen, brought foreign policy credibility to the ticket).

It is fair to critique Romney’s foreign policy platform. It is fair to critique Romney’s campaign-related foreign travel.

It is even fair to say that after 3-plus years of on-the-job training President Obama now has more national security experience than Governor Romney has. But it is self-discrediting to turn that observation into a resume-based claim that a candidate with Romney’s extensive executive experience in global business and politics somehow flunks the commander-in-chief test. If Obama supporters want to be taken seriously on national security, they need to make serious arguments. Claiming that then-Senator Obama was qualified whereas Governor Romney is not, is fundamentally unserious.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.