While the economy has been the foremost issue of this presidential campaign, foreign policy still matters. As I’ve argued previously, foreign policy shapes voter evaluations of the presidential candidates and ultimately influence how they will cast their ballot on the election day. Furthermore, a recent Foreign Policy Initiative poll of 1,000 randomly selected likely voters found that an overwhelming majority (97 percent) believe that readiness to be commander in chief is an important qualification for the White House.
This week, Mitt Romney sought to convey and convince voters of his ability to lead the country in foreign affairs by delivering a major foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute. Moreover, the address sought to provide a comprehensive critique of President Barack Obama’s foreign and national security policy and to paint a real choice between the candidates in this election. In a conference call head of the address, foreign policy advisors Richard Williamson, Alex Wong and Eliot Cohen sought to frame Romney’s foreign policy in the “bipartisan tradition of peace through strength” pursued by presidents from Harry Truman, to John Kennedy, to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Advisors attempted to frame Barack Obama as a Jimmy Carter with a weak and partisan foreign policy, a line of attack Williamson in particular has pursued for some time. However, others, such as Michael Lind of the New America foundation, have noted the influence of the Republican tradition “in the Obama administration's cost-conscious, realist foreign policy.” So, how much difference is there between the candidates on foreign policy issues? While there are some policy differences between the candidates, there is largely a consensus between them on a big government approach to foreign policy and in support of broad executive power in this domain.