What a difference a month makes in politics. At this point in September, Democrats bragged about Barack Obama’s big advantage in foreign policy over the Republican ticket, which they scorned as the least-capable major-party ticket in that area in decades. John Kerry, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama himself all attacked Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on foreign policy at the Democratic National Convention, and pundits wondered whether Democrats could successfully change the narrative of the election from the economy to foreign relations and national security — including me. Now, both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have gone on offense, and the administration’s the side looking lost and unable to competently deal with crisis abroad.
First, Paul Ryan attacked Obama on the collapse of American strategy in the Middle East and north Africa in an exclusive interview with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace. Ryan wouldn’t take the bait when Wallace asks if the Obama administration engaged in a cover-up, but attacked Obama’s “policy of weakness”:
Ryan called President Obama’s foreign policy, “one of weakness.” He added, “We’re seeing the ugly fruits of the Obama foreign policy unravel around the world on our TV screens. Syria, you’ve got 20,000 dead people. Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon. The Middle East peace process is in shambles and we have our flags being burned all around the world. Russia is thwarting us at every stage in the process. This is a weak foreign policy with terrible results which makes us less safe.”
Wallace said there isn’t a big difference between Romney and Obama’s foreign policy plans, and when it comes to Iran, Romney’s red line seems to be about where Obama’s line has been drawn. Ryan said the difference is that the president’s policy lacks credibility. He stated, “The president has moved his rhetoric a bit to look more like ours, and that’s good, but the problem is it’s built upon a mountain of non-credible actions.”
He said, “When you hesitate, when you don’t speak with clarity, when you don’t project your confidence in American values, it projects weakness and equivocation. When you gut the military, as the president’s proposing to do, that shows that we’re weakening our resolve or weakening our military.”
This morning, Mitt Romney followed suit with a Wall Street Journal op-ed emphasizing the weakness of Obama’s “smart power” diplomacy and foreign policy:
Disturbing developments are sweeping across the greater Middle East. In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, and the country’s peace treaty with Israel hangs in the balance. In Libya, our ambassador was murdered in a terrorist attack. U.S. embassies throughout the region have been stormed in violent protests. And in Iran, the ayatollahs continue to move full tilt toward nuclear-weapons capability, all the while promising to annihilate Israel.
These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere “bumps in the road.” They are major issues that put our security at risk.
Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We’re not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies.
And that’s dangerous. If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel’s security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom.
We still have time to address these threats, but it will require a new strategy toward the Middle East.
The question now isn’t whether Obama can distract from the economy by shifting voter focus to foreign policy. It’s now whether Romney and Ryan can avoid distracting from the economy with these attacks on Obama’s foreign policy, or whether they can succeed in creating an attack on Obama’s competence that now exceeds domestic policy. Voters will still have the economy primarily on their minds when they go to vote, and the poor performance of Obamanomics will be the big issue — whether the recovery has been sluggish because of what preceded Obama or whether his economic policy is just incompetent. Demonstrating Obama’s incompetence on foreign policy could go a long way to proving Romney’s point on Obamanomics, as long as it doesn’t overshadow the point.
Be sure to watch all of Ryan’s interview with Wallace below.