‘A staggering shift’ on the politics of foreign policy

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If you watched the third and final night of the Democratic convention, it was hard to miss the emphasis on foreign policy, national security, military policy, and international affairs. These issues represented more than a fifth of President Obama’s address, and speaker after speaker emphasized Democratic credibility on the subject.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), in particular, seemed to be having a terrific time going after Mitt Romney’s foreign policy ignorance, inexperience, and general confusion.

But in the bigger picture, the Democratic message, especially when compared to what Americans heard in Tampa, reinforced what Fred Kaplan called “a staggering shift”: it’s Democrats who’ve become “the dominant foreign-policy party.”

The conventions these past two weeks – and particularly the final speeches Thursday night – have cemented the fact that the Democratic party is now the party of national-security policy; not just a wise or thoughtful foreign and military policy, but any kind of thinking whatsoever about matters beyond the water’s edge. […]

It was the Democrats who talked Thursday night of their president’s “backbone” and “courage,” of the clear message he sent – as Vice President Joe Biden put it when talking about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound – that “if you attack innocent Americans, we will follow you to the ends of the world.” By contrast, Biden recalled, Republican challenger Mitt Romney once said that it wasn’t worth “moving heaven and earth, and spending billions of dollars, just to catch one person.”

More extraordinary still, it was the Democrats who saluted, mourned, and celebrated the “fallen angels” and “wounded warriors” of the U.S. military. Romney observed no such ritual.

Quite right. Romney ignored the war in Afghanistan as if it doesn’t exist, and failed to even mention veterans. He was, as the AP noted, “the first Republican since 1952 to accept his party’s nomination without mentioning war.”

To be sure, Romney and his party hope to maintain the appearance of credibility by attacking looming Pentagon cuts – blaming Obama for reductions Republicans came up with – but for anyone with even a passing interest in the broader subject, it’s hard not to notice Romney’s only foreign policy experience is his Swiss bank account, and his running mate’s claim to expertise is his vote to launch a disastrous war in Iraq.

What’s more, as Kaplan concluded, “Murkiest of all is the question of what happened to the Republican Party as a player – as the presumptive leader – in foreign affairs. It’s not healthy, either for this election or for the state of American democracy, to have just one of the two major parties take so much as a serious interest in the subject, even if – by evidence of the past few years – it’s the better of those parties.”

Quite right. It’s troubling that Romney’s approach to foreign policy is an incoherent mess, but it’s much worse that Romney doesn’t think that matters.

John Kerry, Foreign Policy and Mitt Romney

'A staggering shift' on the politics of foreign policy

Updated