Conservative media today lauded Mitt Romney for a speech on foreign policy that has been widely panned by experts as big on ideology but short on specifics. In one critique, Council on Foreign Relations senior vice president James Lindsay stated that the speech offered "absolutely nothing," adding that if "Romney has a foreign policy strategy, he still has not told us what it is."
Lindsay added: "The governor is very fond of saying hope is not a strategy, but that cuts both ways. He didn't answer two key questions: what he would do differently and why we should expect what he would to work."
On Fox News' Your World, however, Fox national security analyst KT McFarland said she had "been waiting over 20 years for this speech." She repeatedly praised the speech as Reagan-esque and claimed it contained not just "pretty words" but had "policies to back it up."
In fact, experts disagree that Romney's speech had anything in the way of actual policies or showed a sharp contrast with President Obama's policies.
- Wired: "When Romney looks at Obama's foreign policies, he sees a president who projects 'passivity' in a dangerous world, as he argues in a big speech on Monday, leaving allies and enemies confused about where America stands. Which makes it curious that the policies Romney outlines in his speech differ, at most, superficially from Obama's. ... What might be galling for Obama is that he can fairly look at a lot of Romney's speech and say: I built that."
- The Atlantic: "In his speech today at the Virginia Military Institute, Mitt Romney skewered President Obama for his foreign policy leadership but failed to outline significantly different policy positions."
- Wash. Post: "The address mostly repackaged things Romney has said before, sometimes with greater precision. The Republican offered few specific ways he would change the Obama administration's current approach. Although he made broad critiques of Obama's 'passivity,' Romney did not call for any new armed intervention in any Mideast conflict."
- New York: "The overall message of Romney's speech appears to be that Obama has been consistently weak on foreign policy, and while Romney shares the president's hope for a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East, 'hope is not a strategy.' Yet, Romney's speech is still light on details, and those around him wonder if he's even reading the various policy papers produced by the warring factions on his foreign policy team."
- CBS News: "There's a lot we don't know. Romney has provided few details about exactly how his Middle East policy would differ from the president's, or how he would intensify pressure on Iran to keep that nation from developing a nuclear weapon beyond vague promises of increased sanctions. Romney's questionable claims about Mr. Obama's so-called 'apology tour' reflect an overarching philosophy that the United States should be more assertive in the world, but how any such shift would play out is not clear."
- U.K. Guardian: "Middle East analysts dismiss many of the Republican candidate's suggested foreign policy changes as 'cosmetic.' "
Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy added:
If one pushes past the overheated rhetoric, then you discover that Romney wants a lot of the same ends as Barack Obama -- a stable, peaceful and free Middle East, for example. But that's not shocking -- any major party president will want the same ends. The differenes are in the means through which a president will achieve those ends. And -- in op-ed after op-ed, in speech after speech -- Romney either elides the means altogether, mentions means that the Obama administration is already using, or just says the word "resolve" a lot. That's insufficient.
The NY Times editorial board also wrote:
Mitt Romney mounted a big foreign policy display on a flag-draped stage at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, serving up a lot of tough-sounding sound bites and hawkish bumper stickers, some of them even bumping up somewhere close to the truth, to give the appearance that he would be stronger and more forceful on international affairs than President Obama.
He seems to consider himself, ludicrously, a leader similar to the likes of Harry Truman and George Marshall, and, at one point, he obliquely questioned Mr. Obama's patriotism. The hope seems to be that big propaganda, said loudly and often, will drown out Mr. Obama's respectable record in world affairs, make Americans believe Mr. Romney would be the better leader and cover up the fact that there is mostly just hot air behind his pronouncements.
Mr. Romney's stated policies in Monday's speech, just as they have been in the past, are either pretty much like Mr. Obama's or, when there are hints of differences, would pull the United States in wrong and even dangerous directions. His analysis of the roots of various international crises is either naïve, or deliberately misleading.
McFarland also lent credence to Romney's attack that Obama is "lead[ing] from behind" and "leaving our destiny at the mercy of events," a notion that has been repeatedly debunked by the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, who wrote the article in which the term first appeared.
As Lizza made clear yet again today, the quote was not an admission that Obama has a weak foreign policy; it refers specifically to the strategy the Obama administration used to pass a United Nations resolution to topple former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Nevertheless, McFarland used Romney's attack to highlight two examples she thought demonstrated how effective it is when U.S. presidents use American power to effect change rather than let events take their own course:
McFARLAND: There are two examples when countries fall and revolutions happen. One is the Jimmy Carter example, with the fall of the Shah of Iran. We helped bring down the Shah of Iran and then afterwards Jimmy Carter said let events take their own course. Well, we know what happened with Iran. It's been an enemy of ours for 30 years.
On the other hand, Reagan, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, used American power to help them shape their institutions of democracy -- free press, independent judicial review. And look what we have now. We have some of our strongest allies are those European countries, Eastern European countries. So I think Reagan's talking -- I mean, Romney. Romney, Reagan, R, two syllables. I think he's really channeling Reagan.
But Reagan was no longer president when the Iron Curtain symbolically fell on June 27, 1989, or when the Berlin Wall fell on November 9 of that year.
McFarland went on to say that "the policies though and the substance are what really makes the difference. It's not just pretty speeches with nothing to back them up." She concluded: "I found the speech phenomenal."
By contrast, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly said of the speech: "To those not totally into foreign policy, it sounds pretty good, but it's really full of platitudes."