Romney Gave a Good Speech. Will It Matter? (with update by Paul)

Like pretty much everyone else, I expect this year’s election to be decided more or less exclusively by voters’ judgments about the economy. This is one respect in which the present campaign differs from 1980. In 1980, America’s alarming weakness abroad and the steady expansion of the Soviet Union probably ranked equally in most voters’ minds with the high unemployment and inflation that marked the Carter years. This year, foreign policy has been very much on the back burner, and polls suggest that most Americans are reasonably satisfied with the Obama administration’s conduct of foreign affairs–not because anyone thinks foreign policy has been conducted skillfully or that America’s interests have advanced under Obama, but because most voters have very low standards.

Today Mitt Romney addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars on the eve of his trip to England, Poland and Israel. Those destinations, of course, were not chosen at random. They are three strong allies of the United States that have been cast aside, in various ways, by President Obama. Romney’s speech was pretty much what you would expect from a modern Republican presidential candidate. Romney believes in American exceptionalism and stands for a strong foreign policy that unabashedly seeks to advance the interests of America and its allies. The speech was well written and well delivered; here are some highlights:

I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. I am not ashamed of American power.  I take pride that throughout history our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict, and hope where there was affliction and despair.  I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced.  I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever.  And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion:  This century must be an American Century.

Romney attacked the cuts in defense spending that are scheduled to take place if Congress does not act:

A healthy American economy is what underwrites American power. When growth is missing, government revenue falls, social spending rises, and many in Washington look to cut defense spending as an easy out.  That includes our current President.
Today, we are just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats.  Don’t bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this, unless that rationale is wishful thinking. Strategy is not driving President Obama’s massive defense cuts.  In fact, his own Secretary of Defense warned that these reductions would be “devastating.”  And he is right.

This is not the time for the President’s radical cuts in the military. Look around the globe. Other major powers are rapidly adding to their military capabilities, some with intentions very different from ours.  The regime in Tehran is drawing closer to developing a nuclear weapon.  The threat of radical Islamic terrorism persists. The threat of weapons of mass destruction proliferation is ever-present. And we are still at war and still have uniformed men and women in conflict.
All this and more is ongoing in the world.  And yet the President has chosen this moment for wholesale reductions in the nation’s military capacity.  When the biggest announcement in his last State of the Union address on improving our military was that the Pentagon will start using more clean energy – then you know it’s time for a change.

I like the “green energy” jab at the end. Next, Romney went after the Obama administration’s politically-motivated breaches of security:

It is reported that Bob Gates, the President’s first secretary of defense, bluntly addressed another security problem within this administration.  After secret operational details of the bin Laden raid were given to reporters, Secretary Gates walked into the West Wing and told the Obama team to “shut up.”  He added a colorful word for emphasis.
Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake.  But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran.
This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis.  And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”
This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field.  And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence.  Obama appointees, who are accountable to President Obama’s Attorney General, should not be responsible for investigating the leaks coming from the Obama White House.

Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished.  The time for stonewalling is over. 
It is not enough to say the matter is being looked into, and leave it at that.  When the issue is the political use of highly sensitive national security information, it is unacceptable to say, “We’ll report our findings after Election Day.”  
Exactly who in the White House betrayed these secrets?  Did a superior authorize it?  These are things that Americans are entitled to know – and they are entitled to know right now.  If the President believes – as he said last week – that the buck stops with him, then he owes all Americans a full and prompt accounting of the facts.

Like most politicians, Obama says the buck stops with him, but he doesn’t really believe it. In reality, the decision to leak classified information for political gain probably came from very near the top of the Obama administration. His principal staffers, after all, know his priorities. Romney assured his audience that he will run a different sort of administration:

And let me make this very clear:  These events make the decision we face in November all the more important.  What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain?  I’ll tell you right now:  Mine won’t.

Romney next turned to Obama’s often-disgraceful treatment of our allies, whom Obama seems to think less of for being friendly to us:

The operating principle of American foreign policy has been to work with our allies so that we can deter aggression before it breaks out into open conflict.  That policy depends on nurturing our alliances and standing up for our common values. 
Yet the President has moved in the opposite direction. 
It began with the sudden abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic.  They had courageously agreed to provide sites for our anti-missile systems, only to be told, at the last hour, that the agreement was off. As part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government.
If that gesture was designed to inspire good will from Russia, it clearly missed the mark.  The Russian government defended the dictator in Damascus, arming him as he slaughtered the Syrian people.
We can only guess what Vladimir Putin makes of the Obama administration. He regained the Russian presidency in a corrupt election, and for that, he got a congratulatory call from the Oval Office.  And then there was that exchange picked up by a microphone that President Obama didn’t know was on.  We heard him asking Dmitry Medvedev to tell Mr. Putin to give him “space.”  “This is my last election,” President Obama said, and “After my election I’ll have more flexibility.”

Why is flexibility with Russian leaders more important than transparency to the American people?

Romney then moved on to Israel:

I will leave Reno this evening on a trip abroad that will take me to England, Poland, and Israel.   And since I wouldn’t venture into another country to question American foreign policy, I will tell you right here – before I leave – what I think of this administration’s shabby treatment of one of our finest friends.
President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was.  And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem.
The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world.  And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.

After a discussion of Iran–“A clear line must be drawn: There must be a full suspension of any enrichment, period.”–Romney moved into the concluding paragraphs of his speech:

It is a mistake – and sometimes a tragic one – to think that firmness in American foreign policy can bring only tension or conflict.  The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision.  In the end, it is resolve that moves events in our direction, and strength that keeps the peace.
I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might.
This is very simple: if you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your President.  You have that President today.

The 21st century can and must be an American Century. It began with terror, war, and economic calamity. It is our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom, peace, and prosperity.

It is, as Romney says, very simple–America deserves a pro-American president. Foreign policy won’t be more than a side show in this year’s race, but still: most voters understand that a president’s first and most important task is to protect national security. For anyone who is not hopelessly sunk in liberalism, it will be obvious that Romney will give us a stronger foreign policy, and a stronger America, than Barack Obama.

PAUL ADDS: I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been more critical than John of candidate Romney. But I just heard a replay of Romney’s speech to the VFW and it was a strong performance.

Like John, I don’t know that this speech, or foreign policy in general, will matter. But the fact that Romney is finding his stride as a speaker should help his candidacy.