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Romney and Obama on foreign policy: short on specifics

President Obama and Mitt Romney delivered foreign policy speeches to the VFW this week, but neither offered great detail on how they will deal with a fractious world. With Romney on a trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland, let's hope both candidates put tawdry domestic policy sniping on hold.

By John Hughes / July 25, 2012

Mitt Romney addresses the 113th Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Convention in Reno, Nev. July 24. Op-ed contributor John Hughes notes: '[A]s Obama has learned in his first term, declarations of intent in foreign policy are hostage to unpredicted changes, upheavals, and explosions in far-off lands sometimes immune to US hopes, wishes, and persuasion.'

James Glover/Reuters

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Beals Island, Maine

Down through the years, foreign policy has usually been given short shrift in US presidential election campaigns. Domestic issues generally dominate, and it looks as though the US economy and unemployment will get most of the attention this year.

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President Obama and Mitt Romney delivered foreign policy speeches to the Veterans of Foreign Wars this week, but neither offered great detail on how they will deal with a fractious world. Mr. Obama delivered a fiery speech on promises he has made and kept to veterans, who certainly are deserving of honor and post-war care. Mr. Romney attacked the White House for leaks of national security secrets and for pending defense cuts, which will kick-in automatically at the end of the year.

Romney is now on a foreign trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland. He has a longstanding friendship with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, with whom Obama has sometimes been at odds. The Israeli visit will redound well with the politically influential Jewish community in the US.

Thus we may be in for a brief period of relief from a campaign that is costing too much money, taking too long, and been sadly short of civility. It is a long tradition that tawdry domestic policy sniping is put on hold when a president or presidential candidate is abroad. Hopefully both presidential candidates will observe this.

Romney does not have vast experience in the making and practice of foreign affairs. He lived in France for two years as a Mormon missionary, has traveled throughout the world, and ably handled athletes, their handlers, and visiting dignitaries, from scores of foreign countries when he piloted the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City out of scandal and pending financial disaster to great success.

His foreign policy advisers in the presidential campaign include such luminaries as Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. In Joe Biden, Obama has a vice-president well versed in foreign policy. If Romney selected former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as his vice-presidential running mate he would have not only an African-American woman on his ticket, but a skilled foreign policy adviser.

However, that prospect seems to have faded, and so Romney’s choices for such key foreign policy roles as secretary of state and secretary of defense would be particularly critical should he win the presidency.

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