Mitt Romney delivered another major foreign policy speech on Monday, and he -- as did Barack Obama when he was running for president in 2008 -- talks as if he thinks world leaders, terrorists and rogue operators will snap to attention and do what the United States wants because there is a new man in the White House.
Romney focused much of his speech on turmoil in the Middle East as he stepped up his criticism of Obama over his handling of upheavals in Syria, Egypt and Libya, where the U.S. ambassador was recently murdered; the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dire threat Iran poses if it builds a nuclear weapon.
In terms of what Romney would actually, specifically do differently from Obama -- send weapons to rebel forces in Syria, for example -- Romney has yet to spell it out.
Romney has some points: the Obama administation has explaining to do about the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. But this "leading from behind" -- what Romney accused Obama of doing -- is a slogan. Voters deserve a country situation-specific strategy.
Said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "In terms of Libya, for instance, I mean, at first he was for the intervention. Now he's against it. It's unclear where he is on Syria, for instance, where at one stage I thought I heard him say earlier -- not in the speech but earlier -- that he would arm the rebels. Now he's kind of just saying that might help them in some way."
Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute in the battleground state of Virginia, Romney framed his criticisms of Obama's foreign policy with cutting words.
"Hope is not a strategy," he said, using language calculated to woo disappointed Obama 2008 voters.
Romney's policy director, Lanhee Chen, was more blunt in the fund-raising appeal that came a few hours later, pegged to Romney's speech.
"President Obama's foreign policy is a foreign concept to Americans. His policy is one of passivity and denial, which places America and our allies at the mercy of those who mean to do us harm. Despite all the recent catastrophes, President Obama continues to show that he does not grasp the gravity of what's occurring -- and he has no strategy to protect and advance our interests," Chen wrote.
Romney's speech comes before the Thursday vice presidential debate, when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Romney's running mate, faces off against Vice President Joe Biden, who has been immersed in foreign policy for decades. Foreign as well as domestic policy is expected to be on the debate agenda. The speech is also an attempt to help Ryan by trying to put Biden on the defensive going into the debate.
"But when we look at the Middle East today, with Iran closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threatening to destabilize the region and with violent extremists on the march, and with an American ambassador and three others dead -- likely at the hands of al-Qaida affiliates -- it's clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office," Romney said.
To this, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt retorted, "Today Mitt Romney once again tried to engage the president on foreign policy, and we have a simple message for him: Bring it on."
◆ The Obama administration needs to explain why security was lax at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and others were murdered on Sept. 11.
"As the dust settles, as the murdered are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown worse and what this calls on America to do. These are the right questions," said Romney. And Romney would do . . . what?
◆ Romney is misleading when he said, "The president explicitly stated that his goal was to put daylight between the United States and Israel, and he's succeeded."
Romney apparently is referring to a 2009 meeting Obama had with U.S. Jewish leaders at the White House. While it has never been clear that's exactly what Obama said -- there is no transcript -- Obama has said numerous times since that there is no daylight between the U.S. and Israel.
◆ Two-state or no-state? But we do have that secretly recorded videotape of what Romney said about the Israeli/Palestinian two-state solution. In the video, Romney said the Palestinians had "no interest whatsoever" in a peace deal.
Yet on Monday he said, "I'll recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
◆ Romney said he will "call on" NATO allies to pay their share -- ignoring that the Obama administration stepped up efforts to do just that in advance of the Chicago NATO Summit last May.