Where Romney needs substance
With President Obama attacking Mitt Romney's positions and lack of experience, Romney's address Tuesday to the National Guard Association conference was a good opportunity to detail some of his views.
Romney declined to discuss "the differences between my and my opponent's plans for our military and for our national security," but he sketched out a vision of an "American century" and said our troops "deserve the resources and resolute leadership they need to complete that mission, and that they deserve a country that will provide for their needs when they come home."
On Afghanistan, Romney said: "Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders."
In the final part of the speech, Romney recounted a 2006 visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he and two other governors met with members of the National Guard from their states. Romney told of offering to call service members' relatives, and of finding himself making 63 calls the weekend he returned home.
And that was about it.
Unfortunately, this speech was a weak response to criticism that Romney didn't mention "Afghanistan" in his convention speech. Worse, it suggested Romney thinks contacting soldiers' families is preparation for being commander in chief.
This was a wasted opportunity.. His foreign policy message, not unlike his domestic policy message, is getting put through the blender. Romney wants to rise above the fray, which might work if he had a hatchet man at the ready. But so far he has not unleashed Paul Ryan.
What could Romney say on foreign policy? To begin with, he might quote a Democratic insider: "Judgment will trump experience." That would be David Axelrod in the 2008 campaign. Romney could do real damage here, arguing that Obama has shown poor judgment in missing national security briefings where he might have heard candidly from advisers, in trying to offload our Syria policy to the United Nations, in assessing the Russian "reset" a success and in being mute during Iran's Green Revolution.
Romney could take the president to task for being a rotten steward of a first-rate military and top-notch military intelligence apparatus that could find and kill Osama bin Laden, win in Iraq and complete every mission asked of them in Afghanistan. What is Obama leaving to his successor, who will have his own challenges? A hollowed-out military and a culture of rampant leaking? And Obama has failed in the most critical foreign policy challenge: foreclosing the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Romney is not lacking positions. What he is missing is a muscular explanation that conveys where the president went wrong and how he would do things differently.