Barack Obama wanted to put distance between himself and George W. Bush on foreign policy – and no wonder. Bush started two wars, only one of them justified and neither one paid for. He damaged relations with old allies around the world nearly beyond repair and left his young successor to pick up the pieces.
Obama “reset” relations not only with Russia but across America’s portfolio of friends. He ended the Iraq war – just as he promised. He is winding down the war in Afghanistan, although not as soon as we would like. The president has had his share of foreign policy successes.
But in his attempts to be the anti-Bush, Obama too often has been too disengaged. Like some voters, America’s allies want to feel the love even when they decline to return it. Ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose relationship with the president has gone from cool to disdainful.
Despite Mitt Romney’s fumbling of his first big foreign trip (recall he offended both the Brits and the Palestinians), Obama’s risk-averse strategy has left his challenger an unexpected opening on foreign policy.
In a major speech on foreign policy at Virginia Military Institute last week, Romney outlined a more muscular approach that sounded like his Pole Star Ronald Reagan. He never used the words “peace through strength,” but he could have.