The battle for Mitt Romney's soul
Which faction of the Republican Party is winning? We asked three smart conservatives to weigh in.

Reuters

Oct. 8, 2012: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shakes hands with cadets after his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

Article Highlights

  • Every country – even the US – is constrained in what it can do practically in the face of bloody minded enemies.

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  • No leader should be constrained in how he articulates America’s commitment to its allies. @DPletka

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  • This is not an election about national security. And Mitt Romney’s VMI address was enough. Maybe even more than enough.

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Foreign Policy asked three smart conservatives of different stripes to analyze Mitt Romney's big foreign-policy address, and tell us which wing of the Republican Party is winning the battle for Romney's soul. Here's what they told us:

Danielle Pletka:

I’m glad Mitt Romney delivered a major speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute. I wrote in The New York Times that had the debacle of Benghazi -- and the dreadful murder of four Americans -- not taken place, he probably wouldn't have been willing to take time out of the all-economy-all-the-time election to talk national security. But the White House has screwed up royally in both its substantive management of the terrorist threat from Benghazi and the Arab Spring, and in its messaging on everything from Libya to Syria to Iran to Russia. 

Every country -- even the United States -- is constrained in what it can do practically in the face of bloody minded enemies, obstructionist wannabe superpowers and terrorists; everyone understands that our resources are finite. But no leader, and certainly not the commander in chief of the U.S. military, should be constrained in how he articulates America's commitment to its allies, intolerance of threats to the global order, and vision for the nation's role in the world.

Romney's speech at VMI was a far cry from his previous perorations on the feebleness of the Obama Doctrine of "leading from behind.” It departed from the cliches -- "I will never apologize" -- and ignored the Islamophobia of a few among the GOP ticket's supporters. Romney instead offered serious propositions about rethinking aid to the Middle East; measured, yet well-deserved criticism of Russia; and thoughtful, but not drone-obsessed answers to the terrorist threat.

Where did he fall short? Not in failing to talk about Israel-Palestine. Did anyone seriously think that after decades of failed peace processing, he would mouth some platitude about the need for a peace process? Unfortunately, he limped in distinguishing himself from Obama on Iran, where the president has, by any measure other than success in imposing fruitless sanctions, failed. Romney also shied away from tougher talk about the challenge of an increasingly aggressive People's Republic of China.

Still, this was a better speech, a serious speech, and -- on the barometer of Obama promises and orations -- serious in its vision and intent. Would wonks like me prefer more? Possibly, but this is not an election about national security. And the VMI address was enough. Maybe even more than enough.

Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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