After Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech Monday, Obama campaign officials on a conference call with the media attacked the Republican presidential candidate for his lack of attention to East Asia, Africa and Latin America. And indeed, Romney’s entire speech relegated Russia, China and South America to one sentence each, combined in a single paragraph.
Instead, the vast majority of Romney’s words at the Virginia Military Institute were devoted to the Middle East, and while that might give short shrift to some other regions, it also underscores something fundamental: the Middle East is where American foreign policy-making is most entangled right now.
The Obama administration has talked repeatedly about a “pivot” to Asia, with the economic and hegemonic challenges posed by China looming particularly large. But, much as the Obama team might wish it to be so, that is not what’s steering US policy right now.
Romney listed several hotspots – Libya, Syria, Iran – which are dominating headlines and, to the extent that foreign policy is playing a role in the race, concerns among the American public. China also elicits some worry, but in a less tangible and visceral way than does an assassinated US ambassador.
Of course, the Middle East is also the region where Barack Obama faces the most vulnerability, so it’s no surprise that it’s the area that Romney hammered away at.
But he was able to land punches because it’s the foreign destination that’s gripping the American psyche right now.