Published for http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com, May 16, 2012
David Sanger’s provocative recent piece on Romney’s foreign policy is a useful reminder of something I have beaten the drums on for a while: In this campaign cycle, Republicans are more vulnerable to simplistic critiques on foreign policy than are Democrats.
Traditionally, Republicans have issue ownership on foreign policy and national security. Voters reflexively trust Republicans more than Democrats to do the right thing in that arena. While Democrats might have more popular positions on an issue or two, in general Republicans have the rhetorical advantage.
This time around, the Democratic candidate has done a comparatively good job positioning himself for maximum political advantage on foreign policy and national security. Obama is not immune to critique — indeed, his record is decidedly mixed — but compared to domestic/economic policy, where the administration’s unpopular record is hard to spin away, foreign policy is somewhat more favorable terrain.
Part of the reason, I believe, is that while it is easy to point out foreign policy mistakes, setbacks, and questionable decisions, collectively they have yet to be summarized into a simple pattern.
Earlier, I suggested one such pattern: Obama’s successes have largely come by following in Republican footsteps, whereas his failures have largely come by following his own instincts, at least the instincts he touted on the 2008 campaign trail. If it was Obama’s idea, it tended not to work; if it worked, it tended not to be Obama’s idea.