Learning foreign policy ‘at the International House of Pancakes’

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The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman noted last week, “For the first time in a long, long time, a Democrat is running for president and has the clear advantage on national security policy.” Part of this, the columnist argued, is that Mitt Romney acts “as if he learned his foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes.”

Romney hopes he can help change that impression, though, with a speech this morning, titled “The Mantle of Leadership,” delivered at the Virginia Military Institute. The Obama campaign is marking the occasion with a new television ad that will run today in Virginia.

For those who can’t watch clips online, the spot highlights “Romney’s gaffe-filled July tour of England, Israel and Poland,” as well as his ugly effort to exploit American deaths in Libya for partisan gain, which generated bipartisan disgust.

Of course, it’s a 30-second ad, and there are only so many examples the Obama campaign can squeeze into a short commercial, but the list of Romney’s troubles on international affairs isn’t short. Indeed, the AP reported over the weekend that Romney caused another diplomatic problem when he condemned Spain’s fiscal policies last week in a way that didn’t make sense.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said about Romney, “What I see is ignorance of what is reality.”

This comes on the heels of a similar Romney incident involving Japan, which came on the heels of Romney insulting, to varying degrees, literally every other member of the G-8.

And the problem isn’t limited to diplomacy. The New York Times reports today that Romney’s own advisers say “they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.”

The larger pattern raises serious questions about Romney’s capacity to lead on the global stage.

Especially in light of this morning’s speech from the former one-term governor, consider what we’ve learned recently about Romney and how he would take on the role of “leader of the free world.”

On the Middle East peace process, Romney has said he intends to ”kick the ball down the field and hope” that someone else figures something out. His handling of the crisis in Libya “revealed him as completely craven.” On Iran, the candidate and his aides can’t even agree on one policy position. On Afghanistan, Romney occasionally forgets there’s still an ongoing, deadly war underway.

It’s an area of embarrassment that refuses to go away – remember the time Romney “fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator” to avoid a reporter asking his position on the NATO mission in Libya? Or how about the time he said there are “insurgents” in Iran? Or when he flip-flopped on Iraq? Or when he looked ridiculous during the incident involving Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng?

Perhaps my personal favorite was when Romney tried to trash the New START nuclear treaty in an op-ed, but flubbed every relevant detail, prompting Fred Kaplan to respond, “In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and – let’s not mince words – thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty.”

And this only touches on the 2012 race. As we talked about in March, Romney had even more trouble during his first presidential campaign, making huge errors of fact and judgment he still hasn’t explained.

Remember the time Romney told ABC News he would “set a deadline for bringing the troops home” from Iraq – but only if it’s a secret deadline? How about the time Romney, more than four years into the war in Iraq, said it’s “entirely possible” that Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria prior to the 2003 invasion? Or the time Romney pretended “Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood” were all the same thing? How about my personal favorite: the time Romney made the bizarre assertion that IAEA weapons inspectors were not allowed entry into Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?

He’s even picked a fight over President Obama’s strike on Osama bin Laden, ignoring the fact that Romney took an entirely passive attitude towards the al Qaeda leader, saying “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth” to get the terrorist responsible for 9/11. Around the same time, Romney said he would not order a strike into Pakistan to get bin Laden, rejecting Obama’s willingness “to enter an ally of ours” to target the terrorist leader.

If Romney’s remarks this morning are supposed to make up for a record like this one, it’ll have to be one heckuva speech.

Mitt Romney and Foreign Policy

Learning foreign policy 'at the International House of Pancakes'

Updated