When it comes to presidential candidates and foreign affairs, there are basically two kinds of candidates: those who point to their vast experience (Biden, Kerry, H.W. Bush) and those who point to their vision and instincts (Obama).
Then there's Mitt Romney, who doesn't quite fit into either camp.
During his first presidential campaign, Romney struggled badly on foreign policy and international affairs, arguing, for example, that it was "entirely possible" that Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
But the inexperienced former one-term governor has had four years to read, get up to speed, and shape a coherent vision. How's that going? Not at all well.
But don't worry, Romney has a plan.
Mitt Romney's campaign is considering a major foreign policy offensive at the end of the month that would take him to five countries over three continents and mark his first move away from a campaign message devoted almost singularly to criticizing President Barack Obama's handling of the economy, sources tell POLITICO.The tentative plan being discussed internally would have Romney begin his roll-out with a news-making address at the VFW convention later this month in Reno, Nev. The presumptive GOP nominee then is slated to travel to London for the start of the Olympics and to give a speech in Great Britain on U.S. foreign policy.Romney next would fly to Israel for a series of meetings and appearances with key Israeli and Palestinian officials. Then, under the plan being considered, he would return to Europe for a stop in Germany and a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney's wariness toward Russia. Romney officials had considered a stop in Afghanistan on the journey, but that's now unlikely.
So, the candidate whose foreign policy experience has been limited to missionary work in France and stashing cash in the Cayman Islands hopes to gain some credibility by heading abroad.
At the surface, there's nothing especially wrong with this idea, but there is a problem lurking below the surface: what is it, exactly, Mitt Romney is going to say about foreign policy that will be coherent and sound? Or more to the point, how will the candidate choose between the arguments presented by his advisors, most of whom disagree with one another?
About a month ago, the New York Times reported that many members of Team Romney disagree with one another -- and at times, even the candidate -- about foreign policy, and occasionally, Romney's own advisors have no idea what he's trying to say. Last week, Reuters had a similar article, reporting that Romney's foreign policy advisors are constantly at odds.
The same day, the NYT added that the diplomatic crisis surrounding Chen Guangcheng was seen as an opportunity for the Romney campaign, but they couldn't get their act together, and couldn't even agree on what the candidate's position should be.
Fred Kaplan took stock of what we've learned thus far and concluded that Romney is a "foreign policy lightweight" whose ideas "range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous."
Is Romney an extremist? Or, in keeping with the GOP approach to politics in general these days, has he simply calculated that it's best not to agree with Obama on anything? Either way, one thing is clear: He is not a serious man.
Observers can certainly pick their favorite evidence of Romney's foreign policy ineptitude -- my personal favorite was his profound ignorance during the New START debate -- but the point is the Republican candidate seems wholly unprepared to lead on the global stage.
In fact, it's not even clear if he cares about the subject at all. Inexperience need not be a disqualifier, if voters are given reason to believe there's a sensible vision and sound judgment that undergirds a coherent set of positions. But Romney hasn't even met this low threshold, preferring instead to pull together veterans of the Bush/Cheney administration -- some of whom have no credibility whatsoever -- who've been left to argue amongst themselves and leak to the press about their frustrations.
I realize foreign policy probably won't shape the 2012 race over the next four months, but for a guy who's supposed to embody "competence," Romney doesn't appear to know what he's doing.