Political Animal


October 22, 2012 9:44 AM Where’s Moderate Mitt on Foreign Policy?

By Ed Kilgore

As many observers have noted, the focus of the third and last presidential candidates’ debate on foreign policy is not particularly fortunate for Mitt Romney. Best anyone can tell, his rise to a dead heat with Barack Obama in the polls is primarily a function of two things: (1) His Moderate Mitt routine (particularly when it went unchallenged during the first debate) has enabled a chunk of “economic referendum” voters to support him; and (2) the self-generating power of perceived success, which is palpably getting Republican “base voters” whipped up into a frenzy in anticipation of that glorious day when the evil black man is ejected from the White House.

Foreign policy is not terribly germane to the whole “economic referendum” framing, and there’s no evidence a significant number of voters are on the edge of wanting to “fire” Obama over foreign policy issues. Just as importantly, on the international topics that have come to the fore during the campaign, Romney’s positioning is not very “moderate,” yet cannot be “moderated” without either sounding too much like Obama’s or upsetting some element of the GOP “base” just as they gird themselves up for Election Day.

Consider the advice offered to Romney for tonight’s debate by the New York Times’ Bill Keller. Here are the headlines: (1) Go easy on Benghazi; (2) Say Something nice About the Palestinians; (3) Extend a hand to Mohamed Morsi; (4) Concede that the war in Iraq was a mistake; (5) Don’t rush into Syria; (6) Open the door to a deal with Iran; (7) Apply some Bain rigor to defense; and (8) Cool it on China.

Taking Keller’s advice would involve almost exactly a 180-degree turn in Romney’s foreign policy positioning. Yes, the MSM and low-information voters have proven themselves to be remarkably easy to manipulate via protestations of moderation on domestic issues that have not been backed up by policy specifics; and/or by asserted policy positions that aren’t real (i.e., the repeated claims that Romney health “plan” covers people with pre-existing health conditions). But how does a presidential candidate who has repeatedly and heatedly and redundantly defined America’s interests in the Middle East as identical with those of Bibi Netanyahu do (2) and (6)? How does the nominee of a party whose base is for the most part quite happy with the idea of American foreign policy being organized around a straight out war against Islam going to do (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), or (6)? Can a candidate who’s been running around Hampton Roads telling voters that they’ll all starve if the defense budget is allowed to decline an iota suddenly get Bain-ish on Pentagon spending? And how on earth can Romney “cool it on China” after making his hostility to that country central not only to his foreign policy but to his economic policies, and to his differentiation of himself from George W. Bush?

Perhaps the strategic calculation of the Romney campaign is that having drawn even with Obama via mendacious positioning on domestic issues, his job tonight is to look “responsible” and reduce the impression that he’s going to bring the exact same crowd that gave us the Iraq disaster back into power, just as determined to launch a war with Iran right now as they were to launch a war with Iraq when they gained power in 2001. But in a campaign where foreign policy has simply offered Romney martial background music for his main pitch, focusing on it for 90 minutes without visibly frothing for war or looking like a stooge for defense contractors or his friend Bibi won’t be easy. My guess is that he’ll spend much of the debate trying to change the subject back to the economy under the tired but ever-ready argument that America is getting sand kicked in its face on the international beach because of its economic puniness. So we need a good strong domestic austerity plan to buff ourselves up. It makes no real sense at all, but the good thing about Mitt Romney as a candidate is that he can say the most astounding things with a straight face.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on October 22, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Mitt will do what Mitt does best:
    He will look into the camera, and say whatever it is he thinks he needs to say, to close the sale.

    Obama needs to keep bringing up that Mitt's foreign policy team consists entirely of the same neoCLOWN bozo's who brought us the Afghanistan and Iraq fiasco's.

    And Obama should say at the end, "Well, if you loved George W. Bush's economic and foreign policies, and you know what I'm talking about, then Governor Romney is the man you should vote for. But if you don't want another George W. Bush, and a wealthier and even more out of touch one, in office, then I'm the one you should vote for."

  • Josef K on October 22, 2012 10:05 AM:

    Just our luck news surfaces tonight that the back-channel contacts with Iran all broke down, Pakistan blows up in revolution, and China decides to revalue it currency so the dollar turns to dust.

    Gods but I'm getting cynical in my old age.

  • c u n d gulag on October 22, 2012 10:07 AM:

    And Obama should add, "Oh, and if you DO end up electing Governor Romney, just remember that I'll still be available in 4 years to fix his economic debacle, and end the Iran War, and any other foreign entanglements he and his advisors get us into. I'll still have 4 years left. I'd prefer that you reelect me to do what I've been doing, which is cleaning up President Bush's economic and foreign policy messes, but I'll still be available to clean up President Romney's."

  • Danp on October 22, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Keller's advice might as well be, "Lie, lie, lie." That's what passes for opinion journalism these days? Ugh! And by the way, why Keller? Is he an expert on foreign policy, or just another political strategist?

  • stormskies on October 22, 2012 10:20 AM:

    "Yes, the MSM and low-information voters have proven themselves to be remarkably easy to manipulate via protestations of moderation on domestic issues that have not been backed up by policy specifics; and/or by asserted policy positions that aren’t real (i.e., the repeated claims that Romney health “plan” covers people with pre-existing health conditions)."


    The corporate media, or the MSM as you refer to it, is not being manipulated at all. In reality, they are actively complicit, to use the words of Scott McClellen,
    in the very same deceptions and lies that pathological liar Romney has affected on the 'low information voter'.

    Some of the corporate media has tried to expose these deceptions and lies, but the vast amount has not. Thus we ended up after the first debate wherein Romney lied 27 times in 38 minutes and was then declared the 'winner' by the corporate media. They could only do this because they themselves lie all the time by way of their invented 'story lines' and 'narrative' that only serve as the vehicle of their own propaganda.

    Imagine just for a moment we had a collective corporate media that simply told the truth about whatever.

    Do you think then that even the 'low information voter' would vote for the pathological liar Romney ? It wouldn't even be a contest right now with Obama.

    But we don't and so here we are with the distinct possibility that this fucking asshole Romney may in fact become the next president of our country.

    If that happens then the likes of people like David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory would be ejaculating all over himself all the way to his bank account.

  • sjw on October 22, 2012 10:26 AM:

    As cund gulag has pointed out above, Obama will need to press Romney hard in order to smoke him out as a know-nothing: don't expect anything from the moderator here. If the Obama from the second debate shows up, there should be no problem.

  • Mimikatz on October 22, 2012 10:29 AM:

    Here's a question for Bob Schieffer:

    "Under President Obama America is behind the rest of the world responding to global warming, with Germany and China leading the way on green tech and other countries providing the leadership on the issue. Governor Romney, how would our response to global warming change if you are elected President?"

    Trick question, to be sure, but I'd really like to see it or some variant that asks about climate change as a national security issue.

  • Kathryn on October 22, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Pres. Obama should close with CUND Gulag's statement, word for word. Also, can we win a freaken coin toss!!

  • N.Wells on October 22, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Romney has shown that for him, 180-degree reversals are Not A Problem.

    My prediction is that Romney will throw out a flurry of names of countries and leaders in an attempt to seem knowledgable (and will overdo it), and will keep lying that what Obama has done isn't working, without getting specific about his own policy suggestions or Obama's supposed failures, and will be deemed by the pundits to have a narrow win or a draw.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 22, 2012 10:37 AM:

    Well, looks like the press and bloggers are setting this up to be a big expected win for Obama and when the Lyin' Sack of Mitt gets through puffing his chickenshithawk chest, it'll be a surprise win for the dickweed.

    Way to go, wordsmiths.

    Here's what's going to happen. Mitty will Gish, and Mitty will Gallop. Then Mitty will Gallop and Mitty will Gish. 70,000,000 will hear the Gish Gallop and 10 will see the fact checks.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 22, 2012 10:46 AM:

    Yeah, Mimikatz, you're question would be just the thing Team Willard would be hoping for. Blame green on Obama and fool the complete morons in America that a Republican in charge would have done better on the renewable energy issue. All you'd be giving Romney was a chance to attack Obama on jobs. Period. He wouldn't say two words about climate change or renewable energy jobs.

    We have to WIN, god damn it! A question on climate change two weeks before the election to embarrass Obama who would do much better than a climate-denying Republican is NOT the way to get an important issue addressed. Sometimes it's difficult to believe how pathetic fellow Democrats can be at playing politics.

    Still enjoying the Nader victory in Florida, 2000.

  • Bo on October 22, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Mitt's foreign policy will no doubt mirror his tax plan: "I am going to reduce terrorism by 20 percent. Across the board. And I am going to do that by reducing deductions."

    I know, I know. That's even ridiculous for satire . . . but it makes about as much sense as The MittWit's tax plan.

  • T2 on October 22, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Romney will lie and misdirect, and hurl accusations with no real fact behind them.
    I've decided that the American people judge these "debates" by how the guys look, not what they say. And men want each guy to call the other a liar to his face, and women don't want them to raise their voices and argue.
    With all the positive signs in the economy, why anyone would consider voting for a guy who refuses to give any details about what he'd do if elected is a mystery. But if he looks more handsome, thats important. I hope Romney's haircut has grown out a bit, he looked like Goober last week.

  • Rick on October 22, 2012 10:55 AM:

    Saw Dan Senor on Morning Joe today, and it sure looks like their goal will be to blur the differences on foreign policy. Ole Moderate Mitt will do the 180 and agree with President Obama on just about everything that doesn't tie back to economic issues (China). President's job: highlight the differences and Mitt's past positions.

  • Josef K on October 22, 2012 10:58 AM:

    Myself, I hold no expectations for tonights debate. I would like for the President to take a baseball bat to Romney's head, or hand Mitt a loaded gun and challenge him to just shoot him right there on national TV, but since that's not going to happen I'll just anticipate we'll see some more political theater and that's that.

  • c u n d gulag on October 22, 2012 11:14 AM:

    OT - but "foreign" to this non-religious person, ZOINKS! - Mormonism.

    Someone did secret video’s inside a Mormon Temple.
    I got this almost 8-minute clip from Digby:

    Here’s more if you’re interested:

    I know all religions are weird.

    But at least they have the excuse of being ancient and foreign.

    This one is more recent, and made in the good old USA.

    Send these clips to any of your Republican Evangelical realtives, friends, and neighbors.

  • schtick on October 22, 2012 11:22 AM:

    You people are all so silly. Willard is practicing to NOT answer questions, talk over the moderator, TELL the moderator how he (Willard) is going to do the debate and most of all, practicing to get the last word in. Oh, and smile (that arrogant condescending smile) the whole time.

  • Mimikatz on October 22, 2012 11:34 AM:

    Actually, disgusted, the point of my question was not to embarrass Obama, but to put Romney in the position where the obvious way to oppose Obama is to criticize him for not responding to GW sufficiently, but Mitt can't do that, shoe would have to say he would follow policies that cede even more leadership to China and others. Obama could come back and say as he did at the Dem convention that GW is not a hoax and not a joke and he has been dealing with it so far with much increased fuel economy standards, energy efficiency and supporting research, aloof which the GOP wants to cut, and we really need to do more.

    I'm not disgusted with Obama, just with the GOP and with trolls.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 22, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Mimikatz, the way your question is worded would embarrass Obama and falsely. You can forget about AGW as a campaign topic. The only thing that is important -- THE ONLY THING -- is Obama winning, and AGW is NOT going to turn any votes. Not now. It's been ignored too long and the votes up for grabs belong to people too stupid to know and prioritize the issue properly. This issue has been nauseatingly ignored for too long for it to be important at this point. Part of the reason is the very reason we're in this dangerous place in history: Democratic spinelessness in the face of bullies and liars. Democrats have continued this tradition for the last two years on issues exactly like AGW and even more so on making the case for government. It is despicable and the reason everybody has a sick feeling in their stomach when they realize Romney is essentially tied in the race.

    You have Democratic spinelessness to thank for this. We should be experiencing Republican extinction, but we're not. But we damn better do everything we can to help Obama win because if he doesn't..., well, you know what's gonna happen.

  • exlibra on October 22, 2012 12:43 PM:

    Mimikatz, @ 11:34 AM

    When was the last time Romney *really answered* a question he didn't like? I can tell you what he'd do with yours:
    Gas was $1.80 in '08, is now $4.00; unacceptable, with so many people out of work, due to Obama's policies. Everything should be on the table, but, most important is that we drill here, drill now, for independence from the Middle East and fuel security (see, we can tie it to foreign policy in more ways than one).

    And anyway... Craptcha says that tonight's debate will be a "Bibitia test". All about the Middle East, and who loves the nut-and-yahoo the most.

  • Peter C on October 22, 2012 12:59 PM:

    I don’t expect ‘Moderate Mitt’ at all tonight. I think we’ll see ‘Mitt the hawk’. I think he’ll say that Israel is in peril (as if it hasn’t ALWAYS been in peril). I think he’ll say that the chaos in the Middle East is Obama’s fault (caused by ‘projecting weakness’ and unrelated to the spread of democracy). I think he’ll say that Iran all-but HAS a bomb (a scary spherical one with a burning fuse). He will lie, but do so ALARMINGLY. And, lying is one of Mitt’s core skills.

    Republicans don’t win on national defense by seeming reasonable; they win on national defense by scaring the public. They exaggerate the danger of the world to make a militant stance look reasonable. Sadly, it is easy. It is much easier to scare ignorant people than reassure them. We pay an enormous cost for our collective ignorance and cowardice; we spend more on defense than most of the rest of the world COMBINED. Our ‘Defense Department’ does so little to protect us at home, we need a whole other expensive ‘Department of Homeland Security’. In truth, the Defense Department spends most of its efforts protecting the overseas assets of the 1%.

    The Republicans have an entire NETWORK dedicated to keeping their viewers ignorant, scared and misinformed. They HATE the network which is dedicated to educating and informing Americans.

    Protesters in front of the American Embassy seem scary, even if all they accomplish is to scorch the outside bricks of the compound wall a little. Now, with an Ambassador dead, they seem even scarier. But, if the only affect of a big protest is that you need to wire-brush the soot off the outside wall, is it REALLY as scary a thing?

    Sadly, what I expect from tonight is a long session where Romney terrorizes the public. It will be scary lie after scary lie. As each two-second lie takes three minutes to refute, Obama will never have a chance to rebut them all. Any partial rebuttal will be held up as dangerously incomplete and the original lie will seem all the more true for being only partially addressed. Will Bob Schieffer call Romney of his lies, or will he nod sagely and wait for Obama to object?

    I have a bad feeling about this.

  • Doug on October 22, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Mitt doesn't need a routine, or say anything. He only needs to be an amiable alternative to a train wreck. 52 percent of Americans (latest Gallup poll) are fed up with Obama, which means it's 57 percent. And even if I'm wrong, the upcoming Benghazi Hearings will torture the winner with Nixon-like inquisitions: "what did the President know and when did he know it?"

  • Keith M Ellis on October 22, 2012 2:06 PM:

    Yes, Peter C. is correct and Ed and, especially, Keller, are quite wrong.

    Romney has no need whatsoever to moderate on foreign policy to appeal to swing voters because swing voters are not moderate on foreign policy. Most especially are they not in favor of almost any of the positions that Keller recommends.

    The one and only way that Romney can go wrong in the hawkish direction is to appear to be a warmonger. And, honestly, it won't be very difficult for him to present himself as hawkish-but-not-warmongering. I'm not even sure what an American politician would have to actually do to convince the public he/she was a warmongerer -- the public, like Peter C. says, responds to messages of fear too easily and readily. In principle, at some deep level, they are afraid of a warmongerer, someone who recklessly takes the US into a terrible war, such as most now agree that Vietman turned out to be. But it's notably that Iraq, by objective measurements, should be considered as terrible and ill-considered, but it mostly isn't. The negative opinion on Vietnam is an outlier, not representative. Liberals repeatedly don't understand this. (I understand it while thinking that Americans in general, and the GOP in particular, are by any reasonable measure, warmongerers.)

    In contrast, the others way Romney could go wrong are appearing to be uninformed/incompetent, or to be dovish. The former, people like Keller ironically recommend. The latter is a small possibility, but you really have to reach Palin-levels of ignorance and incompetency; and, even then, that barely gets through because, let's face it, the average American knows just about as much, or less, as Palin does. Three-quarters of what's talked about tonight will be gibberish to those watching. For that reason, they'll be watching for style, not substance. (They always are, but in this case, especially so.) And, on style, Romney merely has to appear to be informed and competent, and hawkish but not insane. I think he'll accomplish this and will not embrace any particular "moderate" positions on foreign policy as Keller suggests.

    But I also think Obama will do about equally as well, as he doesn't have the same deficit in credibility on these issues as Democrats normally do, and also enjoys an inherent advantage in trust and credibility as POTUS.

    So it will be a draw, unless someone makes some stupid, avoidable error.

    The one thing that won't happen is that Romney will say something good about the Palestinians. Or Iran. Or that the sanctions against Iran are working. Or that the Iraq War was a mistake. (!) He'll continue his China-bashing, not reduce it. He won't commit either way on Syria, but darkly imply that things would have been better if he'd been in charge. He'll defend the defense budget on the basis of the War on Terror, pointing to Benghazi as Exhibit A. He'll continue to press Obama on Benghazi, only much more carefully, attempting only modest damage. He'll reiterate his support for Israel and Netanyahu. There will be none of this "moderate foreign policy" from Romney tonight because, I repeat, he doesn't need to be moderate about foreign policy.

  • j on October 22, 2012 2:20 PM:

    Anyone read the article on Daily Kos from a former Mossad leader, this should influence foreign policy.