Sensing an opportunity to strike after some missteps by the Obama Administration, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in his speech at the Virginia Military Institute, stepped away from his messaging on the economy to offer what was billed as a visionary speech that would show contrast between him and President Obama.
What was actually given offered no real departures from the policies of the current President other than some rhetorical flourishes.
Romney laid out a vision of stronger U.S.-Israel security cooperation between and support of a two state solution (which Romney had recently disavowed in his famous “47 percent” speech). The problem is that Obama has already done this. Israeli political and military leaders including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon have universally praised Obama for increasing the level of security cooperation with Israel, including increased military aid, acceleration of the Iron Dome and David’s Sling rollout, providing advanced weaponry such as “bunker buster” bombs and F-35 fighter planes and signing the bipartisan “US-Israel Enhanced Security Act.” Since Romney did not say what other cooperation he would offer different than Obama, there did not seem to be any difference from current policy.
In the past, Romney had tried to lay out some differences between himself and Obama on Iran, only to back off pushing for immediate military action in recent weeks. In this speech, he called for greater sanctions, drawing the line against Iranian nuclear development at the point of assemblage, greater diplomatic efforts to push Iran into compliance with international law while refusing to take military options off the table and sending a message with a strong naval presence in the Persian Gulf. Again, President Obama is already doing all of these and with strong enough effect that there are riots in the streets of Tehran, and Iran has started to offer some “compromise” gestures (which President Obama has already rejected as inadequate). Romney offered few specifics here on what he could, or would, do differently.
On Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya, the policies he proffered were exactly the same as President Obama’s. Indeed, the sole difference, and one of the few specifics, was wanting to get more involved in Syria, unilaterally, if necessary. This is particularly ironic because Romney had criticized President Obama’s unilateral approach in getting involved militarily in Libya.
If anything, Romney missed an opportunity to further elaborate on how he would balance getting tough on China while continuing to borrow money from them, or how he would help to stabilize the Eurozone crisis that threatens America’s economic recovery or deal with the flow of drugs coming across the border from Mexico.
Some of the lack of clarity may not be deliberate. There have been several articles noting divisions in Romney’s foreign policy team between the James Baker school (led by Romney foreign policy lead Robert Zoellick) and the Neo-Conservatives (led by Iraq War spokesman and Ryan foreign policy lead Dan Senor). Whatever the cause, the speech offered no clear differentiated vision that would attract a foreign-policy inspired voter seeking a different direction away from the incumbent.
Andrew Lachman is a Truman Security Project Partner