Opinion

David Rohde

Romney’s extreme foreign policy makeover

David Rohde
Oct 11, 2012 20:48 UTC

It began two weeks ago with a little-noticed speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, where Mitt Romney distanced himself from Tea Party Republicans and defended the legitimacy of American foreign aid programs. And it continued in a speech on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute, where Romney – after months of hailing only Israel – called Turkey and pro-democracy Arab Spring demonstrators American allies as well.

“As the joy born from the downfall of dictators has given way to the painstaking work of building capable security forces, and growing economies, and developing democratic institutions,” Romney said, “the President has failed to offer the tangible support that our partners want and need.”

Just as in domestic policy, Mitt Romney is softening his rhetoric in foreign affairs. Moving away from more strident stances on supporting Israel, increasing U.S. defense spending and fearing the Arab Spring, he is adopting a more measured tone. The question, of course, is whether voters will embrace the new Romney or see him as an opportunistic chameleon.

Romney’s campaign won’t acknowledge any official shift, but recent press reports have noted the rising prominence of Richard Williamson, a senior foreign policy adviser and veteran diplomat viewed as a relative moderate in Republican foreign policy circles. Williamson led a call with reporters before Romney’s speech on Monday and appears to have had a hand in his recent change of tone. Rhetorically at least, the role of neo-conservative advisers – such as former George W. Bush administration officials Liz Cheney and Dan Senor – seems to be waning.

In an hour-long phone interview on Wednesday, Williamson denied any shift – or division – within the Romney campaign. But he presented a far more nuanced version of Romney’s approach to the Middle East than displayed on Romney’s trip to Israel in July. The Israel trip was organized by Senor, the neo-conservative former Bush administration official.

Come down from the mountain, Mr. President

David Rohde
Oct 4, 2012 17:49 UTC

The Barack Obama of last night’s presidential debate was eerily similar to the man who delivered a muddled acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The incumbent was cautious, tired and on some level – it seemed – turned off by the manipulation of facts that is the ugly heart of politics.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, seemed to relish it. The challenger was fresher, faster and folksier than a sub-par president. Obama seemed startled and frustrated by Romney’s deft shift to the center and audacious effort to portray Obama as the extremist: Obama is a defender of the big banks; Obama is gutting Medicare; Obama funneled $90 billion to fat-cat contributors in the renewable energy industry.

Fact-checking by Reuters and other news organizations shows that Romney glaringly twisted the facts. What was more surprising – and troubling – was Obama’s tepid response.

How a place like Brazil can be a job creator for the U.S.

David Rohde
Oct 3, 2012 20:09 UTC

VITORIA DE SANTO ANTAO, Brazil – Last year, Kraft built a gleaming new factory on the outskirts of this town in northeastern Brazil. When I visited it last month, my heart sank.

The state-of-the art, $80 million facility seemed to be yet another example of the inevitable shift of jobs from a declining America to emerging powers like Brazil, China and India.

When I looked closer, though, it was clear that the globalized economy at work here is not a zero-sum game. There are opportunities for Americans as well. We simply need to let Europeans teach us how to seize them.

The BRIC laggard

David Rohde
Sep 28, 2012 13:40 UTC

SAO PAULO – For decades, Denis Dias’s parents could never break into Brazil’s middle class. They started a bakery and a pizzeria in the 1970s and 1980s, but the country’s economic instability and hyper-inflation consumed their businesses and their hopes. His father ended up owning a newsstand. His mother worked as a maid. And Denis attended dilapidated state-run schools.

Over the last 10 years, Denis and at least 35 million other Brazilians have achieved their parents’ dream. Denis is a corporate lawyer at a Brazilian energy company and a new member of Brazil’s middle class, now 100 million people strong. Denis, his company and his nation have ridden the exports of iron ore, soy, oil and other natural resources to prosperity.

But Brazilians ranging from Dias to business leaders to government officials say Brazil must develop a more sophisticated economy and effective government if it hopes to continue its rise. While attention has focused on political turmoil in India, China and Russia, Brazil has quietly emerged as the economic laggard of the BRIC countries.

Republicans betray their foreign policy tradition

David Rohde
Sep 19, 2012 18:20 UTC

The release on Tuesday of Mitt Romney’s surreptitiously recorded comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict confirmed a sad truth about today’s Republican party. The GOP has gone from the party of strategic foreign engagement to the party of simplistic chauvinism.

The problem goes beyond Romney’s private comments at a Florida fundraiser in May. Repeatedly over the last week, his surrogates laid out a view of American foreign policy at odds with the party’s tradition of sophistication in foreign affairs.

It started with Liz Cheney. A day after four Americans were killed in Libya, Cheney accused the Obama administration of abandoning allies around the world and failing to intimidate Islamic militants.

Honoring a slain ambassador

David Rohde
Sep 13, 2012 20:32 UTC

Whoever murdered Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his staff in Libya this week is our enemy. And so are the bigots who made a lurid amateur video denigrating Islam.

Whether the video prompted the deadly attack in Libya is not yet known. Militant groups may have planned the killings. And the two acts are not equivalent: murdering four people is unjustifiable and incomparably worse than making an insulting video.

But both acts are the products of delusional extremists trying to drive a wedge between the United States and the Islamic world. Muslim and Christian extremists may seem to have nothing in common, but they are united in their desire to divide us. Stevens, an affable 52-year-old diplomat famed for his humility, integrity and willingness to listen, would not want us to help them, according to colleagues and friends.

Parsing Romney’s and Obama’s middle-class pablum

David Rohde
Sep 7, 2012 12:30 UTC

Throughout the last two weeks of political conventions, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and a vast array of surrogates accused their opponents of gutting the American middle class.

Paul Ryan and Bill Clinton did it blatantly. Michelle Obama and Ann Romney did it subtly. And all speakers tried to portray themselves as in touch with the middle class, from the Romneys eating “lots of pasta and tuna fish” to Barack Obama’s proudest possession being “a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster.”

In the process, though, both parties gave politically skewed definitions of the middle class, simplistically blamed each other for its struggles and presented pat solutions for the complex problems it faces.

Make immigration a campaign issue

David Rohde
Sep 4, 2012 15:58 UTC

John Weston, Eric Buckland and Mike Bloomberg don’t have much in common.

Weston is a farmer struggling to keep in business the 1,000-acre farm his family has operated in Western Maine for seven generations.

Buckland is an entrepreneur who runs a small high-tech manufacturing company in North Carolina’s famed Research Triangle Park that makes handheld retinal scanners.

And Mike Bloomberg is the billionaire mayor of New York who doesn’t have many struggles at all.

Trying to have it both ways in Syria

David Rohde
Aug 23, 2012 15:43 UTC

Amid the daily reports of clashes and killings in Syria, a subtler message is emerging: America is increasingly irrelevant.

Inside Syria, opposition fighters complain that the United States is doing little to help them, according to intrepid reporting by correspondents for Reuters, the New York Times and Foreign Affairs. Instead, funds and arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia are turning jihadists into a growing presence. Among international observers, Washington is seen as insignificant.

“On the ground, really, this administration has been essentially irrelevant, locked into its own perpetual debate on what to say and what to do,” said Peter Harling, Syria analyst for the International Crisis Group. “I think generally this administration in the Arab Spring has spent a huge amount of time trying to analyze events instead of shaping them.”

Beyond the gaffes, Romney misleads and veers right

David Rohde
Aug 3, 2012 15:56 UTC

In presidential races, the gaffes get the headlines, but the prepared texts and advisers are more telling. Mitt Romney’s widely reported blunders in his three six-day trip to Britain, Israel and Poland dominated press coverage, but the candidate’s prepared comments and the aides who advised him were far more disappointing.

At a fundraiser in Jerusalem this week, Romney said that aspects of Israel’s culture explained why the average per capita income in Israel was twice that of the Palestinians. Within hours, Palestinian officials called the statement “racist” and accused Romney of ignoring the economic impact of Israeli’s military occupation of the West Bank, as well as $3 billion a year in American aid to Israel.

Romney could have dismissed the episode as a misunderstanding. But instead he stood by – and expanded – his argument that culture is why Israelis were wealthier than Palestinians.

  •