Mitt Romney has published an Op ed in the Wall Street Journal that lays out his critique of Obama on foreign policy. Romney accuses Obama of an international approach that “lacks resolve,” says Obama is pursuing “devastating” defense cuts, says he has not projected enough strength towards Iran and claims he has let down Israel as an ally.
Ed Kilgore marvels at Romney’s odd decision to “make foreign policy a major focus of his campaign at this sensitive moment of the presidential contest.” Indeed, though the events in Libya and Egypt certainly raise legitimate questions about Obama’s overall approach to the region, and about why the White House initially mischaracterized them, it’s worth appreciating the degree to which Romney comes to the foreign policy debate from a position of real political weakness.
The new Post poll finds:
* Obama holds a 14 point edge over Romney on who is more trusted to handle terrorism, 53-39. Among independents it’s 51-43; among moderates it’s 62-32.
* Obama holds a 10 point edge on which candidate would do a better job handling an unexpected major crisis, 52-42. Among independents, that’s 51-43; among moderates it’s 60-33.
* Obama holds a five point edge on who is trusted to handle international affairs, 49-44. However, this represents some slippage, and Romney leads among independents by this metric, 48-43. But Obama is still ahead overall.
What about Israel? Well, the recent Fox News poll found that only 37 percent of voters think the Obama administration has not been supportive enough of Israel, versus 42 percent who say it’s been about right (and another 10 percent who say it’s been too supportive).
Romney will undoubtedly hit Obama with charges of weakness at the debates. But this gives Obama an opening to respond with some variation of: “Ask Osama Bin Laden if my administration has been too weak.” He has said this before; at a presser in December of 2011, Obama said: “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22-out-of-30 top al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.”
Obama will almost certainly hit back at Romney with very similar language during the debates. And in this case, tens of millions of people will likely be watching. I personally don’t like this kind of chest thumping, but it would very likely be politically effective.
One other quick point: A number of people have pointed out that Romney has been oddly quiet about the administration’s shifting explanations for the Libya and Egypt attacks. One possible reason for this: Perhaps Romney is hoping to create a big moment at the debates by accusing Obama of lying or covering up the real explanation for the violence, to help himself politically. By laying low on that charge now, he is guaranteeing that such a move would be more newsworthy. So keep an eye out for that.