Although the 2012 presidential campaign may still be in its early stages, one thing is clear: foreign policy is not the Republican Party’s strong suit this year. Not only are the party’s overall views on foreign policy disjointed and incoherent (as opposed to the 2004 election where the party was mostly united in a strong hawkish, neoconservative philosophy) but its candidate himself, Mitt Romney, is both inexperienced in and, as can be more clearly gleaned from his recent world travels, uneducated about the international arena.
This is not to say that President Obama did not have the former problem during his 2008 campaign. His foreign policy experience was strongly lacking, especially against his Republican opponent John McCain, a longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But at least President Obama had a clear foreign policy vision, one that contrasted strongly with both McCain and the previous administration. He at least displayed strong foreign policy knowledge on an array of subjects from Iraq to Sudan to China.
Romney’s views on the world are not so clear. The notorious “flip-flopper” seems to oscillate between the various foreign policy views of the GOP electorate. Some days he’s an apologetic neocon, rattling sabers at Russia and China, and criticizing the President’s Afghanistan-withdrawal-plan as anathema to U.S. interests. Yet other days he seems to echo a platform very much the same as Obama’s current plan in Afghanistan.
If his views are to be taken seriously (and some doubt if they should) Romney politics in the Middle East line up pretty strongly with the Israeli Likud party. From this we know three things: Romney would allow Israel relative free ride on its policies, right or wrong, that the former Massachusetts Governor would take a hawkish approach to Iran (risking war and instability in the Middle East), and that a President Romney would not be very friendly towards the new regimes of Egypt or Tunisia.
Part of me thinks Romney is too smart to actually believe this tripe. While Bush was a “think-with-your-gut,” “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” kind of guy, with nary a bone of pragmatism in his body, Romney appears at least removed in his behavior, and he appears to consider the pros and cons of every action (which explains his “flip-flopping” behavior in politics). So, again, part of me leans towards believing that as president, Romney would merely be a high-defense-spending, moderate, realist in the mold of Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush. It’s hard to realistically picture him as one truly in the camp of Paul Wolfowitz or Bill Kristol whose panacea for foreign policy comes down to “bomb! bomb! invade! invade!”
That being said, we must take the candidates at their word. To dismiss their words would be folly. And Romney’s words in foreign policy arena border on disastrous. We cannot risk electing someone who — in a time of democratization and revolution in the Middle East, a trend that can easily be reversed or hijacked by illiberal forces — would turn a blind eye to pernicious Israeli policies in the region, encourage military action against Iran, and spurn the newly emergent regimes of Egypt and Tunisia for their exaggerated Islamist nature. Furthermore, as can be seen in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Bahrain, the cold war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran is at threat of heating up across the region if not properly mediated by the international community. Why would Romney want to risk derailing the progress of the Arab Spring through unintentionally encouraging an escalation of Sunni-Shia tensions across the region with the added wild card of an unrestrained, frenetic Israel in the mix?
Honestly, I’d prefer not to have to ask that question again come this December.