This week in Tampa, just over the bay from me, Willard Mitt Romney will be nominated as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate. Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan will become the first GOP ticket since 1940 to lack any formal military or foreign policy experience. Coincidentally, the ticket that year was led by a businessman, Wendell Willkie, who had the misfortune of running not just against a popular Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but in a year when the economy was showing signs of life. The Willkie-McNary ticket lost in a landslide.
Today’s economy is also in recovery mode and showing signs of life. But unlike 1940, voters’ anxieties on the issue have remained sky high, and as a result, both tickets are forced to focus almost exclusively on pocketbook issues. This is especially unfortunate for President Barack Obama, whose first term has been marked by numerous accomplishments abroad and by keeping America safe at home.
And, while an electorate focused solely on economic issues may appear to be good news for Romney and Ryan, the minimal attention being paid to the pair’s lack of foreign policy experience and avoidance of the topic is a disservice to America and our allies.
Meanwhile, there is much unrest in the world.
Syria is in turmoil, with this past Saturday marking the deadliest day in that nation’s civil war.
Iran is the world’s biggest state-sponsor of terrorism and despite facing their toughest sanctions yet, new evidence suggests they are developing a nuclear warhead.
In Afghanistan, U.S. and coalition forces are being attacked by their supposed allies, the Afghan security forces they’ve been training.
In dealing with these issues, President Obama has taken a smart, principled approach that has kept Americans out of harm’s way. Still, these issues take time to resolve.
Meanwhile, look at Romney’s foreign policy gaffes so far – and he’s not even in the White House yet. Prior to picking Ryan, Romney went on a European Adventure that would have made Clark Griswold proud.
But it’s the substance of his views – or lack thereof, Will Marshall argues, that is no laughing matter. In a recent article for The American Interest, Marshall explains that “Romney has yet to develop a coherent outlook on U.S. security and leadership in a networked world. What we get instead is GOP boilerplate about American greatness and exceptionalism, and a pastiche of spaghetti-against-the wall criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy.”
For Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to be considered viable on the most presidential of issues – foreign policy – they must prove during this week’s convention that they not only grasp the world’s most intractable problems, but can offer solutions different than those already in place.
Continuing down a path of incoherence may be a calculated campaign strategy, but it’s not an option available to a commander-in-chief.
Kevin King is a Truman Partner at The Truman National Security Project where this was originally published.