Romney foreign policy speech short on coherence

The big takeaway from the Romney foreign policy speech on October 8 is that there’s no big takeaway. The Republican presidential candidate’s foreign policy speech does not lay out any coherent foreign policy.

Amidst the platitudes and vague generalities, the implied bellicosity and patriotic sentimentalities, there’s no sense of proportion, no sense of scale, little indication of priorities, and no bright, quotable line that crystallizes the candidate’s Romney Doctrine beyond a “vision for a freer, more prosperous, and more peaceful world.”

Romney opens his speech with generous praise for Gen. George Marshall, one of the more distinguished graduates of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where he spoke. After praising Marshall, who is widely credited with being instrumental in rebuilding Europe after World War II, Romney went directly to a discussion of the killing of four Americans in Libya in September, as if the present moment and the aftermath of the Second World War were equivalent times of crisis.

“Last month our nation was attacked again,” Romney said, referring to the September 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate. “Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown so much worse, and what this calls on America to do. These are the right questions. ”

Romney made no effort to answer these “right” questions, not even trying to explain how any current threat was “so much worse” than the threat of nuclear annihilation at the peak of the Cold War.

Libyan Jihadists Equal to Nazi Wehrmacht?

Romney’s argument is based in the implied analogy that suggests Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and the Nazi Afrika Korps in Libya and Tunisia circa 1941-42 is somehow equaled in potency by the threat of a nameless Libyan terrorist cell whose compound was burned by unarmed Libyan civilians.

But that threat inflation was a necessary context for Romney’s argument that President Obama’s policies in the Middle East were inadequate. Â Contrasting himself with Obama’s somewhat nuanced relations with both Israel and Iran, Romney indicated he’d take marching orders from Israel even if it meant marching on Iran.

“Iran today has never been closer to a nuclear weapons capability. Â It has never posed a greater danger to our friends, our allies, and to us,” Romney told his military audience, without clarifying that Iran hasn’t been a great threat to anyone for over 2000 years, since the Persian Empire. Â Â Nor did Romney acknowledge that prediction of the imminent threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon has been made and proved wrong again and again for more than two decades.

Without citing any detail, Romney makes clear his intent to allow no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. Â Two pages later he promises that I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.

No New Ideas For Israel & Palestine

Romney made no effort to say how he would overcome Israelis resistance to a Palestinian state. Â Nor did he try to explain his new position as compared to his comments at a secretly taped fundraiser, where he said he wouldn’t do much more about Israel /Palestine than hope for the best. Â That gave a certain irony to one of his more quotable lines referring to Obama’s approach to the Middle East : “Hope is not a strategy.”

Romney did not say whether he would bring back the use of torture, an idea favored by some of his foreign policy advisers. Romney has said he doesn’t consider water boarding to be torture.

As expected, when Romney did venture into specifics, he made several mistakes: 

  • When he said, “I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region,” he ignored the fact that currently there is one such task force in the Eastern Mediterranean and two in the Persian Gulf.
  • When he said, “The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916,” he ignored the fact that the Navy is currently at levelslast seen in 2005-2006.
  • When he said, “I will roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense,” he ignored the reality that military spending  is currently more than $700 billion a year, an all-time high.
  • When he said, “ The President has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years,” he ignored the fact that Obama has signed three, with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.

New or Old Wars in Romney’s Vision? 

Some have taken comfort in Romney’s softer line toward Russia, which he previously called the most serious international threat facing the U.S. Â And while he didn’t use the word “war,”Â Juan Cole of Informed Comment analyzed the speech to indicate Romney was planning on starting, expanding, or re-starting five “wars” – in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and “small wars” in places like Yemen, Somalia, or Libya.

Since the United States says it has Special Operations Forces in 75 countries conducting daily missions as part of the “war” on terror, it’s possible the Romney plans represent a contraction of our current “wars” in almost half the countries in the world. Â Â That helps explain why our military expenditures are almost equal to the combined total of the rest of the world.

Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, said that:  “I watched the speech with great interest trying to figure out what Gov. Romney’s policies really are. Â I think I came out more confused”¦. I just find him very shallow in the ideas he has. Â Shallow.”

At a campaign event the day after his speech, Romney referred to his meeting one of the Americans killed in Banghazi, about whom Romney said, “he skied a lot, in some of the places I had, and we had a lot of things in common.”

Romney campaign sucker punches Vermont media on voting issue

(This article was originally credited to Bob Morris when the actual author was William Boardman. Our apologies.)

Early Tuesday evening, Vermont Public Radio, (VPR) put out a story about the Romney campaign challenging absentee balloting in Vermont, and got it badly wrong. Other news operations repeated the story, getting it just as wrong in the Burlington Free Press, the Barre Times Argus, the BrattleboroReformer and others, on out into the virtual news world.

“Romney Camp Decries Vermont Absent Voting Preparations” was the identical headline in each of those media, giving credence to some problem with absentee ballots. Â That problem, according to an unsupported Romney Campaign claim  was that the Vermont Secretary of State’s “office’s delays caused 53 municipalities to violate the 45-day ballot-transmission deadline for the November 6, 2012 general election.”

In fairness, these media were all parroting the original, erroneous story from the Associated Press (AP), which re-packaged the bogus claim from the Romney Campaign in Washington without verifying it independently.

The accusatory letter to Secretary of State James Condos that falsely asserts “your office’s violations of military voting rights” is the official position of the Romney Campaign. According to Condos, “The Romney campaign emailed the letter to the press”¦. Â We first heard of it and received a copy from the Associated Press.”

The two-page, single spaced letter is dated September 25 and addressed to Condos, in care of Kathy Scheele, Director of Elections, with a copy to the U.S. Dept. of Justice. The letter is signed by Anthony Principi, former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Bush, and national chair of the “Veterans and Military Families for Romney Coalition.”

Although the letter asserts “violations” four different times, only the U.S. Dept. of Justice can make that initial determination. Â What the letter alleges to be a violation is that unspecified “delays” by the Secretary of State’s office somehow caused some unspecified number of absentee ballots to be sent out after the legal deadline of September 22.

Condos acknowledged that some ballots may have gone out late, but his office needs to review the record with the town clerks who are responsible for actually mailing out absentee ballots to military and overseas voters under state law.

As explained by Bryan Whitener of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in Washington, the absentee ballot requirement “falls under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2010 (“MOVE Act”), which amended the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). The Secretary of Defense has administrative responsibilities for UOCAVA. Within the Department of Defense, the Secretary has assigned these responsibilities to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is the agency charged with enforcing all federal election laws.”

Condos has provided a copy of the Vermont absentee ballot report filed with DOJ as required by law. Â That report lists all the state’s 834 absentee ballot requests by individual voters, grouped by town. Â Reviewing that report shows that there may be as many as 46 apparently un-sent ballots scattered among 20 towns. Â Â At this point no one knows if some ballots were not sent because the voter came home or died, for example.

The Romney Campaign’s letter falsely claimed 53 “municipalities” violated the law, without naming one.

The Romney Campaign’s letter falsely asserted that the Vermont Secretary of State has some oversight authority over Vermont’s town clerks.

The state’s ballot report shows that some of the un-sent ballots were requested after the deadline. Â It shows that many requests that came in close to the Saturday deadline had ballots sent the out early the following week.

As Condos observed, “Many of those went out on Monday, by email, which means that the recipients will actually receive their ballots before anyone who receives it by snail mail – kind of ironic.”

The Romney Campaign letter notes that it had sent a previous letter of concern, but omits one of the reasons for that concern: the state had to complete an unexpectedly complicated recount of the Progressive Party’s race for the governor nomination before ballots could be printed. Â Neither the state nor the towns do recounts. Â The recounts were handled by the counties, but dependent on the towns. When it was over, this race was on its third official final total.

The Romney Campaign letter concludes with Principi saying, “If I may be of any assistance as your office and the U.S. Department of Justice attempt to

correct your office’s violations of military voting rights, please do not hesitate to contact me.”Â Â But the letter includes no personal contact information other than the campaign website URL.

For days the Romney Campaign spokespersons have been saying that this ballot issue wasn’t “political,” just an effort to help the troops vote. Â But the Vermont letter was apparently coordinated with a similar letter in support of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. Â Â And the same erroneous AP story managed to turn up on the website for at least three other states, New YorkVirginia, andFlorida.

Vermont’s Fox News station took the same AP report as everyone else and re-wrote it to make it slightly harsher.

And 24 hours after running the inaccurate AP story, VPR posted a less inaccurate version that still treated the claim as credible, but also as “a taste of presidential politics.”Â Â Â The story quotes a Middlebury College professor to the effect that Romney’s effort won’t affect the result in Vermont, but could be a plus for him in other states, like New Hampshire.

None of the subsequent clarifications explain why the Vermont Secretary of State didn’t challenge the factual inaccuracies as soon as he was aware of them.

Nor does any of this explain why, if the Romney Campaign is serious about defending the right to vote, it hasn’t challenged the latest voting list purge in Florida, an effort to challenge voters’ citizenship even though some of them already proved it during similar purge efforts earlier this year.