Ask anyone who has tried it, and they will say that running for president is a lot more difficult than it looks from the outside. Nowhere is this more true than in the arena of foreign policy—both creating a coherent framework for the United States’ role in the world and having an intelligent approach to dealing with individual nations. No one has yet suggested how this might be done in the abstract or by reliance on advisors. A serious candidate to govern the United States and its foreign relations must have traveled the world, met foreign leaders, studied history, and formed a first-hand sense of friend and foe alike.
All this comes to mind with Governor Romney’s current foray into at least a small part of the world. He is getting a first-hand lesson on how complex a presidential campaign can become. Aside from some outright ignorant statements, such as that Russia is our most significant threat, he has offered no structure, no set of principles, upon which a coherent foreign policy could be based.
But the anti-Russian statement does reveal a disturbing inclination to rely on the wrong advisors, those with their own personal axes to grind and biases to promote. For a candidate, let’s say George W. Bush, not to have a structure of foreign policy principles, is to subject that candidate if successful to the private agendas of those around him who have stronger, and often wrong, opinions such as Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. It is painfully easy to lead a president who doesn’t know what he is doing or why he is doing it into unnecessary wars—Iraq, and wrong-headed decisions—leaving Afghanistan too soon and then returning in the wrong pursuit.
The people and the press should demand that candidates articulate comprehensive domestic policies on the economy and foreign policy structures as a condition for being taken seriously. This is not too much to ask of those who seek the most powerful office in the world. Too few members of the House and Senate explore the world and learn from our diplomats and military commanders, as well as allies and antagonists, what is going on in the world, what we are doing wrong, and what we could be doing right.
If for no other reason, globalization alone should require this. Financial systems, communications systems, energy production and distribution systems, all require that we know how our relationships are working. Massive numbers of American companies are doing business abroad. International trade is expanding explosively. Yet a majority of members of Congress, and candidates for national leadership, seem to think we exist alone on the planet and only need to be left alone.
Like the Kennedys and Rockefellers before him, Governor Romney had much more than usual opportunities to travel and study the world before even thinking about seeking the presidency. Having been a young Mormon missionary in France isn’t quite the same. The fact that he is receiving his party’s nomination with so little international experience and instinct says all there is to say. He and others to follow shouldn’t even think about the presidency without being better prepared and better qualified.