Romney’s Foreign Policy Challenge/Opportunity

3:30 pm ET

I go in-depth with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on how the challenger is dealing with the politics of the Middle East and Northern Africa crisis.

Watch the video above.

MITCHELL: Foreign policy, as we’ve been discussing, is intruding into what had been a political campaign focused entirely on the economy. How have the candidates handled the challenge? Joining me now, Mark Halperin, senior political analyst for MSNBC and TIME Magazine editor-at-large. Mark, what about Mitt Romney, his initial response, and whether or not he should give a major foreign policy speech next week and lay out how he would handle this?

HALPERIN: Well, obviously his initial response got some pretty negative reviews and, I think, it obscured, to some extent, what the Romney campaign would like to focus on, which is, this set of events happening now, very difficult for any president to deal with, to be sure, fits in with the critique Governor Romney has long made about the President and his foreign policy. So, it’s an opportunity for Governor Romney if he does want to move off the economy, if he does want to make these bigger arguments about international affairs and national security, to give a big speech. I thought, for 48 hours, that he almost certainly would. I still think he will. I know some are advising him to do it. But it does mean moving away from the economy, and, just from a purely political point of view, there’s a risk. However, Governor Romney believes in the critique he’s making and, I think, it’s always helpful for a presidential candidate to go out and give a speech if there’s something they feel strongly about and this is an area where he clearly does.

MITCHELL: His foreign policy and his critique is based on his book, “No Apologies,” and that was his immediate instinct for that news release that was released right as the State Department, the Administration, was scrambling to find out what had happened to their diplomats. Is that a policy? I’m just trying to cope with, you know — is weakness and the whole argument that we are, anytime we talk to adversaries, apologizing for the U.S. position, is that the core of his policy?

HALPERIN: Well, it’s a good question. There’s no doubt that it is a fair critique to say that Governor Romney, in this instance, and in his book, and in some other cases, has put forward the notion that the President has apologized or that the President’s foreign policy is based on apologizing when that isn’t accurate. And that he needs to find, I think, some more specifics. How does his foreign policy differ? There’s some controversy now about whether, in enunciating his Iran policy on their nuclear program, if he actually differs from the President. He said in an interview twice that he doesn’t differ from the President. His advisers are trying to say that he does. So, both in specific theater, specific country relations, specific issues, he’s not had, necessarily, a breakthrough, cohesive, and clear set of policies. A speech is an opportunity to do that. There are some areas where he does differ than the President. Although, again, I think, more often than not, he’s overstated what the differences are in areas like Iran, like Israel. But if he does feel he can put together a cohesive speech with some real specifics, this is an opportunity. The crisis going on right now is an outgrowth of the Arab Spring. The President and the Administration haven’t handled it perfectly. No one could. There are areas where it’s possible to criticize. But, I think, as your question suggests, if he just criticizes and he doesn’t have some actual concrete proposals, both for elites, who are going to be looking for real specifics and real, actual differences, as well as for the general public, who are looking for broad themes for the most part, then I think giving a speech would be a mistake. But if he does have specifics in the current crisis, and more broadly, I think, it would serve him and the country well to hear the contrast between the incumbent and what Governor Romney says he would do differently.

MITCHELL: And Mark, the current schedule, the President’s current schedule is to practically fly over the United Nations, dropping down to give a speech, meeting with the Secretary General but not meeting with any of the foreign leaders, not with President Morsi, much to the distress of the Egyptians. Not with Prime Minister Netanyahu or any of the others. It is unusual. They clearly thought this is the week before the big, the first debate. They don’t want a foreign policy blow-up. They don’t want Netanyahu to do something and set off another, you know, depth charge. But is that a wise course for the White House, to think that they can finesse foreign policy, especially after everything that’s happened?

HALPERIN: I think that the time they made that decision, just from a purely political point of view, it was a wise course. But, again, they can call an audible here. As you know, both Governor Romney and the President are expected to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, a few blocks down the street from 30 Rock, and that’s a forum where, certainly, a lot of eyes will be on them. If the world is still in the kind of explosive situation we’re in right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the President did maybe add some meetings to his schedule. He does have that flexibility. But, again, at the time they made the decision, I think, voters in the battleground state would rather hear the President talking about politics, at least if the crisis abates to some extent, than they care whether the President has the kind of bilateral meetings that presidents normally fit into their schedule when they come here for the General Assembly and for the Clinton Global Initiative.

Related Topics: Andrea Mitchell Reports, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Mark Halperin, Mitt Romney, MSNBC, 2012 Elections, Analysis, News, Republican Party, The Page, Video

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