But recent events have rendered Romney’s vision for the world relevant again. Among the twists of the past two weeks: Romney’s failure to so much as mention the war in Afghanistan or the soldiers fighting America’s wars in his speech accepting the Republican nomination; violent protests outside U.S. embassies in the Arab world; the murder of an American ambassador in Libya; and Romney’s own unapologetically Obama-blaming, hard-line response.
“Because of the events going on for the last 24 to 48 hours, I think it’s going to take a much different perspective,” former ambassador Tibor P. Nagy, who advises Romney on Africa issues, said of the campaign. “At the end of the day, American national security and existential threats can move to the front of the stove with just a nudge.”
On Friday morning, the campaign’s foreign policy advisers will participate in a regular conference call in which the chaos in the Arab world “will be top tier,” according to another of the advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the campaign.
Nagy, who has not personally seen Romney since the campaign started, could not articulate Romney’s views on the campaign’s newly pressing issue. “I’m not in any position to judge,” he said.
That fogginess about Romney’s worldview was partly a function of the emphasis on economics so far, but also on the costs of talking globally when a sizable portion of the Republican base, including Ron Paul isolationists and fiscal conservatives, does not want anything to with the world outside America’s borders. That leaves George H.W. Bush-era realists, who advocate a modest foreign policy focused on U.S. interests, and George W. Bush-era neoconservative interventionists as the two available ideological schools to which Romney can subscribe.
His reaction this week made it clear that when it comes to Republican foreign policy, the neocons are still the only game in town.
“This is probably where most of the numbers are right now in the Republican foreign policy firmament and where most of the energy is,” one prominent realist who has advised several Republican presidents lamented. “It’s the path of least resistance as a Republican.”
Alex Wong, Romney’s foreign policy director, refused to utter the word “neoconservative” or to characterize the candidate as an adherent of neoconservatism, instead repeating only that Romney believes in “peace through strength.” But Romney and his advisers — Wong declined to say whether they were consulted before the candidate weighed in on the the embassy chaos — are tripling down on the clear contrasts offered by neoconservatism’s trumpeting of values, which lends itself nicely to campaign seasons but is more complicated in actual governance (see the war in Iraq). Never mind that Obama’s intervention in Libya occurred against the wishes of many practitioners of realpolitik, or that Romney publicly argued both for and against intervention in Libya. Romney’s campaign advisers believed that embassy messages calibrated to defuse anger over a film denigrating Islam reflected the administration’s apologetic squishiness, and they pounced.