Willard M. Romney has said almost nothing during most of this presidential campaign about foreign policy or the world. Then he made his coming out speech at the VFW convention filled with Cold War relics. And then he jetted across the Atlantic to stick his foot firmly in his mouth.
"It's the economy, stupid" was the mantra of the Clinton war-room campaign twenty years ago. And the US economy indeed remains the arena about which most Americans are most concerned. Still, it is startling that a few simplistic messages suffice for an American presidential candidate's international vision. Or is it truly surprising?
What we know about Governor Romney's thinking on foreign policy is that there is very little of it. A phone call away are several dozen "advisers" on defense and foreign policy. There is no evidence that he consults with any of them save to help prepare an occasional speech as he did at the South Carolina military university, The Citadel, this spring or Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in July.
The simple themes on foreign and defense policies follow well-worn Republican and right wing tactics -- paint the Democratic Party and its candidate as weak on defense, manipulated by enemies, and ignorant of imminent dangers. Forget the facts, just recite the message.
As a party, Republicans do not know what they want in American global policy and national security. Broadly, there are four positions on the Republican spectrum -- Ron Paul isolationists, fundamentalist Armageddon and impending rapture types, old fashioned realpolitikers (think McCain or Scowcroft), and unreconstructed ideologues (think John Bolton). No wonder Colin Powell, as recently as May, exhibited disdain for the Romney foreign policy "team," and Republicans' grasp of the world as it has become.
The debacle of Romney's European "arrival" will only be compounded by his ignorance of the Middle East and Central Europe. As a wealthy kid, he studied a bit in France and apparently learned a few phrases. About people or cultures, however, he seems to know nothing. Like most of the super rich, he's likely a drop-in tourist, not a learner. Off-shoring is his way of studying the world -- to Mitt that means opening up new tax-shelters abroad in concert with ensuring that cheap workers elsewhere displace American jobs.
What we do know about Mitt's world is that it is small, dangerous and "Anglo-Saxon." According to Mitt, Russia is our chief nemesis, we should never apologize lest we be seen as weak, we should spend money on armaments rather than use diplomacy and negotiation to abate threats, and we can be sure to urge prolonged conflict in Afghanistan and confrontation with Iran and North Korea. A Romney in the White House would sit fretfully in the Situation Room ... wondering from whence dangers would arise rather than deciding to act against them.
Mitt should stay home -- well, in one of his many homes -- count his investment income, and talk about what a great businessman he once was and how that qualifies him to be commander-in-chief. His world bears no resemblance to the one that he would confront were he in the Oval Office.
Daniel N. Nelson is CEO of Global Concepts & Communications, Alexandria, Virginia.