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Romney Still Lagging in Foreign Policy Strategy

By Erin McPike - April 17, 2012

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Several dynamics explain why Romney has been slow to engage the president in this area. For starters, the current administration has racked up a series of national security and foreign policy victories over the last three years. And Romney has been mired in a GOP primary that forced him to prove his conservative bona fides on more home-grown issues. But perhaps most important, polls universally show that voters are most concerned about pocketbook issues, as Republican strategist Rob Collins pointed out in an interview.

“You’re trying to solve tomorrow’s problems today,” he said.

Nevertheless, the lack of attention to foreign matters could prove inauspicious for Romney should a brighter light shine on international issues in the months ahead -- particularly if confidence in the economy continues to grow.

Romney’s approach has not gone unnoticed by the Obama team. As one campaign official told RealClearPolitics, “The commander-in-chief only gets one chance to get it right, and Romney’s been all over the place on critical foreign policy issues.”

The irony is that Romney has been accusing the president of a “wandering foreign policy” himself.

But Romney’s opponents in the GOP primary regularly complained to reporters that the front-runner had no discernible policy to deal with Afghanistan. One of the campaigns in particular was stunned by what it saw as a multitude of answers from Romney regarding the U.S. effort there.

In remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s winter meeting last April -- as the Arab Spring was playing out -- Romney did not talk about U.S. efforts in Libya and had nothing to say about Afghanistan, even after taking a fact-finding trip to that country, Israel and Jordan in January 2011. Romney has offered few thoughts on his findings since. Instead, in that RJC speech, he touted his negotiating skills as a key difference between the president and himself.

"I think the president's inexperience in negotiations contributed to less than positive developments on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations," Romney said then, pressing his point that Obama’s lack of experience in negotiating “has not been a pretty sight.”

The assertion led a former adviser to Jon Huntsman to sneer that if negotiating skills developed at boardroom tables could qualify for diplomatic credentials, Donald Trump should already have been president. 

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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