The Romney campaign has taken James Carville's 1992 mantra,
"It's the economy, stupid," to absurd lengths, deciding that talking
about anything else is a distraction. And perhaps its right: polls show
that most Americans like President Obama personally but are extremely worried
about the economy.
Further, for the first time in decades,
Democrats seem to have the advantage on national security policy. The Iraq
debacle tarnished the Republican brand and Obama ordered the missions that
killed Osama bin Laden and, indirectly, Muammar Qaddafi. So, Team Romney
is alternately ignoring the topic altogether -- for example, he didn't even mention
the ongoing war in Afghanistan in his nomination acceptance speech -- or taking pot shots
at anything that can be portrayed as an Obama weakness.
Ironically, in my view, Afghanistan is the one foreign policy
area where Obama is quite vulnerable. Three years ago, he decided to double down
on a war that most experts thought unwinnable by that point, predictably
resulting in more Americans killed in action than during the eight years of
fighting that preceded the so-called Afghan Surge. Further, the decision was
clearly a political one, aimed at not giving Republicans an opening to attack him
as weak or "surrendering" in a fight that he himself had described as
"necessary." The war was already unpopular with the American
people when the surge began and more than
two-thirds now think we
should not be there.
Inexplicably, however, Romney is attacking Obama from the other
direction. Or, rather, both directions.
On the one hand, he argues the
president didn't go far enough in Afghanistan: "This past June, President Obama
disregarded the counsel of his top military commanders, including General David
Petraeus, and announced a full withdrawal of those 30,000 surge troops by
September 2012. That date falls short of the commanders' reported
recommendation that the troops remain through the end of 2012 and the Afghan
'fighting season' to solidify our gains."
On the other, it's not at all clear what a President Romney
would do there. One would think that, by the 11th year of the war, he and his
advisers could have come up with a plan. Instead, he promises that
"Upon taking office ... he will review our transition to the Afghan
military" by "holding discussions with our commanders in the
field" and "will order a full interagency assessment."
Similarly, on Iran, Romney charged that Obama "has not drawn us
further away from a nuclear Iran," which he labeled his opponent's
"greatest failure." But it's by no means clear what Romney would do
differently, should he win office. Aside from promising "crippling sanctions" -- something
that Obama and our European allies have already delivered -- he's not really
Romney's cozying up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyu and
other attempts to position himself to Obama's right, such as his recent declaration "We
must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option,"
lead many to speculate that he's itching for war with Iran.