It may be that elections are won on domestic — not foreign — policy, but being president is mostly about foreign policy. Republicans, led by Mitt Romney, seem unable to articulate a vision of how America should proceed in the world. Republicans have essentially abandoned the foreign policy field with good reason — President Obama and Democrats have eaten their lunch in foreign policy since 2008.
President Obama and Democrats supported a timetabled withdrawal from Iraq. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Romney, and most Republicans opposed withdrawal. Sixty-percent of Americans supported the withdrawal from Iraq, 75% supported it by 2011. Conversely, McCain and Romney continue to criticize the withdrawal. They have also opposed withdrawal from Afghanistan, though (again) almost 60% of Americans and GOP congressional leadership support it. The administration’s handling of the Osama bin Laden raid and successful strikes against militants in Pakistan and Yemen have been praised, despite conservative accusations of being soft on terrorism.
The GOP has been inconsistent responding to the Arab Spring, alternately accusing President Obama of not doing enough and doing too much. Conservatives accused Obama of both supporting Egypt's ousted leader, Hosni Mubarak, and favoring Egypt's new ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood. Again, 60% of Americans approved of President Obama’s Egypt policy. With Libya, some Republicans supported intervention. Romney criticized President Obama for waiting for allied consensus and other Republicans called it unconstitutional. Republicans are also divided on Syria, with McCain and Romney supporting a Libya-style campaign, while GOP leadership and the Obama administration have waited to take that step.
Conservative mistrust of the international community reached fever pitch during the Iraq War and preference for unilateral action continues. The Obama administration has built coalitions against Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, and Syria and worked with the UN, NATO, EU, Arab League, and P5+1 allies. Both parties want to confront China on trade. Republicans call China a currency manipulator. However, Romney won’t criticize China’s record on human rights. Romney is non-specific about "enhanced interrogation", though many of his closest advisers support it. Romney seems to break with John McCain and the majority of Americans on the issue.
Sarah Palin famously made bad comments on foreign policy during the 2008 campaign. Herman Cain did the same. Though the U.S. is engaged in sensitive conflicts in Muslim lands, conservatives such as Michele Bachmann make extreme anti-Islamic remarks that have even been rejected by other Republicans. Many rail against the government structures of America’s closest allies. Romney criticizes Obama as a "European socialist" and questions the character of other nations, citing this as a ground for lack of development. When Republicans approach overseas issues, they are discussed with only the American audience in mind. Considering the audience outside of America shows the foolhardiness of dismissing allies and disparaging others whose partnership America needs. This may be excusable for congressmen, but not for a president. Being president means representing America not just to Americans, but to the rest of the world as well. If Romney is unable to do that, he should run for Congress instead.
If Romney’s choice of neoconservative advisors and unreflective style during his overseas trip are indicators, Republicans are on course to pick up Bush-era foreign policy again. If that is the case, regardless of who wins the 2012 presidential election, Republicans can look forward to four more years of Democrats eating them for lunch when it comes to foreign policy.