Mitt Romney made a push to set his foreign policy apart from President Obama's on Monday, declaring that "hope is not a strategy" for keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, settling Syria's civil war, and calming anti-U.S. outbursts throughout the Muslim world. In a major policy address at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said Obama had failed to project American strength abroad, weakening the faith of our allies and encouraging enemies like the terrorists behind the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Without spelling out his policies in great detail, the GOP presidential nominee vowed to restore the "peace through strength" doctrine pursued by presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has a thin international resume, putting him at a disadvantage against Obama, who has four years of intense experience on issues from fighting terrorism to global trade. Did the speech help Romney — already surging in polls after his debate win last week — close the gap? Here, four key takeaways:
1. Mitt made the case for voters to give him a second look
Romney's timing "couldn't be better," says Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review. Fresh off his debate coup, voters are giving him another look. "Foreign policy is an exhausting, frustrating topic. And the Middle East — oy." Still, this address was a welcome dose of realism and a reminder "of our role in the world and moral responsibilities to support those who long for freedom." That's the message, says David E. Sanger at The New York Times, but Romney still "has yet to fill in many of the details of how he would conduct policy toward the rest of the world." His foreign policy team is divided between neoconservatives eager to use American military might abroad, and traditional conservative "realists" who see limits to our nation's ability to impose its will overseas. Romney still hasn't said which team he's on.
2. Romney is spelling out the choice voters face
One thing's for sure: Romney "looked the part of commander in chief," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. His speech was "an indictment of Obama's notion that we can remain safe and secure without leading in the world." The aim here is to put Romney in the company of Reagan and Bill Clinton — and pair up Obama with Jimmy Carter. That will "paint the election as a consequential one with a big choice for voters." Coming on the heels of Obama's "rotten debate showing," this is as opportune a moment as any to make the argument that Romney is the one who offers the "responsible, forceful leadership" to promote "a freer and safer world." Before voters can choose between Romney and Obama, though, says Douglas Bloomfield at The Jewish Week, they'll have to choose between old Mitt, who said he didn't believe in a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the infamous "47 percent" video, and new Mitt, who now believes Israel and the Palestinians must live "side by side."
3. Mitt's words differ from Obama's; his policies don't
For a guy who thinks Obama "projects 'passivity' in a dangerous world," says Spencer Ackerman at Wired, Romney sure seems to like Obama's policies. On Iran, Romney wants to impose "new sanctions" and tighten existing ones, "which is the cornerstone of Obama's Iran policy." On Afghanistan, he wants to transfer security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, "which is the cornerstone of Obama's Afghanistan policy." On Libya, Romney will support the new democratic government, "which is the cornerstone of Obama's Libya policy." Come to think of it, Romney's real aim might be telling voters he "won't swerve wildly" from a foreign policy they like.
4. Mitt glossed over Obama's free-trade negotiations
Romney may have been out to chip away at Obama's foreign policy advantage, says Erik Wasson at The Hill, but he still used the speech to hit Obama's record on financial matters. Romney slammed Obama because he has "not signed any new free-trade agreements." Technically, that's true, although, as usual, the full truth is a bit more complicated. "Although Obama employed anti-free trade rhetoric during the 2008 campaign, he has governed differently." Obama renegotiated three free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea that were signed by President George W. Bush when he was in office, and Obama worked to push them through Congress. And when Romney accused Obama of having "no free-trade agenda," he conveniently glided over "the fact the Obama administration is in talks to create a Pacific trade area."