“He’s articulating policies he wouldn’t follow,” Miller said, noting the preponderance of centrist Republicans among Romney’s foreign policy advisers. “He inherits the same options and limited American choices” that every president does.
Romney, while hitting hard at Obama throughout the primaries, also sought to distinguish himself from the more aggressive rhetoric of his Republican rivals. He would not be drawn into mimicking a pledge by Santorum to strike Iran, and chided Gingrich for saying that the Palestinians were an invented people. He also has told Jewish leaders that he would not pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
Instead, at least when it comes to the Middle East, the Romney team has mounted a campaign that implicitly acknowledges that he and Obama share similar policies – but that Romney came about them honestly, while Obama did so reluctantly.
A Romney campaign sheet distributed last month after Obama addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee set up a narrative in which Obama instituted hard-hitting sanctions, but only after being led to this approach by Congress and by Europe.
“The Obama Administration Lagged Behind The United Kingdom, Canada, And France, In Calling For And Imposing Sanctions On Iran’s Central Bank,” it said. “The United Kingdom and Canada imposed sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and other financial institutions in late November 2011, and France also urged such sanctions. On the same day, the United States declined to impose such sanctions.”
Obama’s supporters have touted his work in pressing the UN Security Council to pass the resolution in 2010 that created the framework for such sanctions. The administration worked with Congress to time the sanctions so they would not harm world oil markets. It instituted the bank sanctions last month.
Romney’s critics say that Obama’s deliberate approach has paid off and that the Republican nominee-apparent had yet to articulate clear alternatives.
“Romney’s whole appeal is this kind of ‘I’m a good manager’ thing, which would lead you to expect a pretty high level of confidence and fluency, yet he seemed in the debates kind of uncomfortable on national security issues,” said Heather Hurlburt, the executive director of the National Security Network.
On Iran, Romney would not be as patient with Tehran as Obama, Neusner said. “There is a significant difference, especially in terms of the follow-through,” Neusner said. “Mitt Romney would be less likely to take the time Obama has.”
Neusner said that in 2007, when Romney was studying up on the Iran issue, the former Massachusetts governor identified Iran’s likeliest vulnerability as its import of refined petroleum. He noted that sanctions targeting that sector did not kick in until 2010, and that the ability to see ahead was a measure of Romney’s analytical acumen.
“His approach to Iran was very pragmatic in the sense that he wanted to understand what actually would work with respect to stopping the Iranians from having nuclear weapon capabilities,” Neusner recalled. “He and his advisers looked squarely at what were the pressure points. One of the things he seized upon was refined gasoline. Now we’re getting around to that as a matter of American policy. He was ahead of the curve.”
Romney’s campaign has made much of the president’s tensions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A recent front-page story in The New York Times outlined the decades-long friendship between Romney and the Israeli leader, dating back to their days in the 1970s as investment analysts at the same Massachusetts firm.
Miller of the Wilson Center said such relationships ultimately can have an impact on policy, particularly when it comes to an Israel decision on when and if to strike Iran. “Barack Obama does not come from that place” of an emotional connection with an Israeli leader, as does Romney with Netanyahu, or Bill Clinton with Yitzhak Rabin and George W. Bush with Ariel Sharon, Miller said.
“He’s not an anti-Semite or an Israel hater, but he does not have the automatic response,” Miller said of Obama. “Romney will give the Israelis the benefit of the doubt because that’s the way he feels.”
Romney also might oppose an Israeli strike on Iran – but he would be likelier to elicit trust from the Israeli leadership, Miller said.
“You will have a different emotional response from a Romney presidency,” he said.