It was fascinating to watch the Democratic Party try to seize the upper hand on national security last night, a predictable strategy that the Romney campaign brought on itself. By mainly treating foreign policy as an afterthought, Mitt Romney is ceding this ground.
For many Republicans, the most surreal moment of the night had to be when Obama chided his opponents as “new…[pause for audience laughter]…to foreign policy.” If that rankled conservatives — who probably recalled that just the other day Obama was a freshman Senator running for president with almost zero foreign policy experience under his belt — that was the entire point. The Democratic base could probably care less how many terrorists the Obama administration has killed, but the Obama campaign is looking to knock the GOP off its game, forcing it to compete on territory it usually commands.
Conservatives should check the urge to sputter about Obama’s own lack of experience when taking office, and just focus on the false premise that he’s actually any good at foreign policy. It’s true that Obama had about as much familiarity with these issues in 2008 as Romney and Ryan do now. But Obama could have spent a decade on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he still wouldn’t have a clue; look at Biden. His foreign policy failures aren’t a result of greenness, they’re a result of incompetence and a defective worldview.
Just look at the national security accomplishments that Obama touts most often: killing bin Laden and ending the war in Iraq. Neither denote any remarkable foreign policy prowess on Obama’s part, and the premature withdrawal from Iraq is hardly something to celebrate. (Both were also made possible by Bush administration policies — the former due to intelligence collected through interrogation methods Obama opposed, and the latter due to the withdrawal timeline in Bush’s Status of Forces Agreement).
As for the rest of Obama’s foreign policy record: Afghanistan is a disaster; the Russia reset is a joke; Guantanamo Bay, which Obama insisted was a major national security hazard during his 2008 campaign, is (fortunately) still open; Obama’s efforts at detente with enemies fell flat; Iran has made significant inroads in its quest for nuclear weapons; the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is as stalled as ever; and Syria’s Assad’s slaughters continues. The list goes on.
Romney has so many opportunities to dominate the argument on foreign policy. But if he continues to view it as a secondary issue, he deserves to lose it.