WASHINGTON — Democrats plan to put their convention spotlight on foreign policy this week, praising President Obama’s signature achievements overseas and portraying Mitt Romney’s views as misguided and dangerously confrontational, according to senior campaign officials.
Polls show that Obama is the first Democratic presidential candidate in decades to hold a clear advantage on foreign policy over his GOP opponent — in this case a former Massachusetts governor with little experience in international affairs. How much that will matter in a contest focused on the economy is an open question, but the Democratic Party is bent on capitalizing on its edge.
The first stage of the strategy has already been implemented, with campaign surrogates reminding voters that Obama ended the Iraq War as promised, ordered the bold raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and worked to repair tattered relations with allies.
Part two, targeting Romney, is being rolled out this week. Directed at undecided moderates, it seeks to instill a sense of trepidation among voters still raw from the costs in lives and money of the Iraq War, and what some perceive as misguided GOP responses to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Many of [Romney’s advisers] were deeply involved in the most controversial policies of the Bush administration,” said Michelle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense who is now cochairwoman of the Obama campaign’s national security advisory group. “It is fair to question whether we are trying to go back to the policies of the previous administration” — policies she said were pursued by “very hard-core neoconservatives.”
That includes John Bolton, the hawkish former ambassador to the United Nations who has called for military intervention in Iran and Syria; Robert G. Joseph, a key architect of the Iraq War as a member of the National Security Council and the State Department; and Dan Senor, a top adviser who played a role in the much-criticized provisional government after the invasion of Iraq.
Democrats are also aggressively trying to portray Romney as out of touch, pointing to his convention speech Thursday.
“Governor Romney had nothing to say about Afghanistan last week. Didn’t mention it,” Obama said in Iowa on Saturday. “Didn’t offer a plan in terms of how he might end the war or, if he’s not going to end it, he’s got to let people know.”
The foreign policy strategy allows Democrats to focus on a weighty concern beyond the economy. Convention organizers are planning a series of events, including a speech Thursday by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a combat veteran.
“A presidency can be changed overnight with a foreign crisis,’’ Kerry said in an interview. “You can’t be strong at home if you are not strong in the world. This fall [voters] are going to measure that.”
Romney supporters insist the Obama message is misleading. They contend his policies have reduced US influence and respect in the world. And while they give him credit for killing Bin Laden, they assert it was the result of continuing the efforts begun by his predecessor.
“Candidate Obama told us in 2008 that he would bring multilateral leadership to the world, he would talk to our enemies and we would be better off for it,’’ said Richard Grenell, a former Bush adviser at the UN. “But the facts show he has garnered less support at the UN and abandoned multilateral institutions. His stated successes of capturing [Osama bin Laden] and drone attacks in Pakistan are both unilateral actions proving he either failed in his goal or didn’t know what he was talking about in 2008.”
Bolton and Joseph declined requests for comment.
The convention this week provides Democrats a stage for their strategy. Sources say that Vice President Joe Biden, in his speech Thursday, will hail the president for decimating Al Qaeda and killing bin Laden.
Obama advisers say other themes expected to be part of the convention include:
■ Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama ended America’s involvement in the unpopular Iraq War two years ago, fulfilling a campaign promise. The administration has also followed through on Obama’s plan to first intensify the US involvement in Afghanistan, then transition security to Afghan forces over the next two years.
■ A “rebalanced” approach to an unstable world, shifting reliance on the United States as leader in all foreign policy disputes to a collaborative approach, with allies on such matters as sanctions against Iran. The approach also focuses attention on such emerging threats as cyberwarfare.Continued...