Tonight, Governor Romney and President Obama will meet for a third and final debate before November 6, and this time the exclusive subject will be foreign policy. Mr. Romney should relish the opportunity, having wound up but failed to deliver a critical blow to the president’s credibility on the miasma in Benghazi during their second debate last week. The president was spared from having to fully account for the events of September 11, 2012, by a moderator whose on-the-spot “fact check” obscured more than it illuminated, and by Romney’s own apparent confusion in pressing the issue.
Romney cannot and should not make that mistake again. Nor should he be shy in questioning the president’s dubious record, in Benghazi or across the world.
That record began when the president delivered a series of addresses around the world shortly after taking office, a jaunt that fittingly enough came to be known as “the apology tour.” In France he criticized America’s past “arrogance” and its “dismissive . . . derisive” behavior. In Trinidad he lamented a “disengaged” United States that sought to “dictate . . . terms” in the hemisphere. At the National Archives he charged his predecessors with making foreign-policy decisions “based on fear rather than foresight” and “trimm[ing] facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.” Countries, even good ones, may sometimes need to apologize for specific mistakes. Generic national self-flagellation is another thing entirely, particularly when it is a form of personal self-congratulation.
But his dim view of America’s conduct of foreign affairs was not without Hope for Change. Obama allowed, at that year’s G-20 summit in London, “that with my election and the early decisions that we’ve made, that you’re starting to see some restoration of America’s standing in the world.” Unfortunately the president, like the Nobel Prize committee, expected his glowing personage to do far too much work in taming a dangerous and devolving world. His insufficiencies have instead become apparent in nearly every theater of U.S. interests abroad.
The liberalization of global trade has done more than any other force to lift the world’s worst-off out of poverty, and has benefited our economy as well. The president, ambivalent about trade and leading a coalition often hostile to it, has missed opportunity after opportunity to promote it. Mr. Obama and his party moved at glacial speed on three free-trade agreements negotiated during the Bush administration, and they are yet to complete a single trade agreement of their own. Indeed, the administration’s most consequential action on U.S. exports was to stimulate the number of guns illicitly smuggled into Mexico via Operation Fast and Furious, thus abetting the murderous designs of the barbaric drug cartels.
The administration’s prized “Russian Reset” was little more than a short circuit. Its great product was the New START — a Swiss-cheese treaty that reduces America’s strategic options while capping the number of deployed Russian nuclear warheads at a level that even a bellicose Putin, constrained by an aging arsenal and economic considerations, would struggle to meet in its absence. And still Russia oppresses at home (to the gulags for economic and political dissidents) and stymies abroad (stonewalling efforts to crack down on brutal regimes in Syria and Iran).
In Iran, in particular, the impact of tactical victories — won through electronic warfare and watered-down sanctions — has been limited by security leaks, real or perceived “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, and Tehran’s alarmingly accurate sense that building nuclear warheads remains in their best interests. (Don’t, by the way, fall for the idea that a reported deal on direct talks between the U.S. and Tehran are a breakthrough: The Iranians would probably use such talks to play for more time.)