Romney Enters Foreign-Policy Debate

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The Romney campaign declined to comment or to make an adviser available to discuss the candidate's foreign policy views.

The location of Romney's Friday address is more than a touch ironic, given his reputation - fueled by Republican rivals like Perry - for flip-flopping on major issues. In 1999, then-candidate George W. Bush took to the Citadel for a similarly high-profile foreign policy address. Bush focused his remarks on the need to build a missile-defense system and a promise not to commit U.S. troops to "open-ended deployments and unclear military missions." Nine years later, Bush left office with American forces locked in long, poorly-defined conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and missile defense still largely a pipe dream.

Still, the choice of the Citadel is clearly no accident. Instead, it comes as Romney reaches out to the GOP establishment - which is deeply uncomfortable with Perry - and is embraced in turn by high-level veterans of the Bush White House and many of the former president's biggest financial backers. Giving a speech in a location which resonates with many Bush supporters is a chance for Romney to attempt to strengthen those bonds just as his battle with Perry heats up.

On Thursday, for instance, Romney rolled out his campaign's new national security and foreign-policy team, which includes an array of prominent Bush-era officials like former Attorney General Michael Chertoff, former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, and a pair of former high-level Pentagon officials, Eric Edelman and Dov Zakheim. It also includes Cofer Black, the former director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, who won Bush's affection by promising to bring him bin Laden's head in a box.

Still, the Republican electorate today is much more conservative than the one which selected George W. Bush, and it's far from clear that Romney's positions - nuanced, moderate and largely in keeping with the policies of both Bush and Obama - are what GOP voters are looking for. Perry has outlined a much more muscular foreign policy, talking about sending U.S. troops into Mexico to fight drug cartels and using Predator drones to prevent undocumented immigrants from crossing into the U.S.

Romney is seeking to symbolically assume Bush's mantle as the choice of the Republican establishment when he takes the stage at the Citadel Friday. Republican voters may see him as the second coming of President Obama instead.

Image credit: Chet Susslin/National Journal

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Yochi J. Dreazen

Yochi Dreazen is writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

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