That is changing, particularly in the Romney campaign, as the former Massachusetts governor begins to set his sights on the general election. Advisers say Romney, cast by the Obama campaign as a foreign policy novice, is unwilling to concede the issue in what both sides say would be a close race.
The emergence of foreign policy in the campaign comes during a particularly difficult period in Afghanistan and at a time when fears are rising about Iran’s nuclear program.
Those concerns, and new ones about what Obama intends to do overseas if reelected, have elevated the issue in the race. Advisers say Romney intends to deliver a major foreign policy address in April or May, depending on the status of the primary contest, and create what one adviser described as a series of “platforms” to highlight the differences between the two candidates.
“In the end, this president will lose because he failed on the economy — that’s the referendum,” said Richard S. Williamson, a senior foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign. “But the same sort of naivete and fecklessness have been evident on the foreign policy side as well. And we welcome having that debate.”
Advised primarily by veterans of the Reagan and both Bush administrations, Romney has been bolder in recent weeks in contrasting his foreign policy views with those of Obama.
In his speeches, Romney has proposed a more confrontational approach to China, Russia, Iran and other countries, one that would clearly identify the United States’ friends and enemies and treat them accordingly. He has also used blunt, swaggering language on the stump that at times has evoked the Cold War era, including his pledge to “devote myself to an American century.”
“And,” he said in his seminal foreign policy speech at The Citadel last October, “I will never, ever apologize for America.” On Thursday, former president George H.W. Bush, who made a similar pledge as vice president, endorsed Romney’s candidacy.
The political opportunity Romney sees in foreign policy was reflected this week when he seized on Obama’s open-mike conversation with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev. In what he thought was a private exchange, Obama asked for more “space” during his reelection campaign that, if successful, would allow him to be more “flexible” in addressing Russia’s concerns during his next term.
Romney said Obama “signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia,” calling the country the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe.” He followed that up with an op-ed in Foreign Policy magazine, the title of which contended that Obama’s “ ‘hot mic’ diplomacy is endangering America.”