Romney’s Foreign Policy:"About Face" or "Two-Faced"?

by James J. Zogby Dr. James J. Zogby is the author of Arab Voices (Palgrave Macmillan, October 2010) and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization which serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community. Since 1985, Dr. Zogby and AAI have led Arab American efforts to secure political empowerment in the U.S. Through voter registration, education and mobilization, AAI has moved Arab Americans into the political mainstream. For the past three decades, Dr. Zogby has been involved in a full range of Arab American issues. A co-founder and chairman of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign in the late 1970s, he later co-founded and served as the Executive Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. In 1982, he co-founded Save Lebanon, Inc., a private non-profit, humanitarian and non-sectarian relief organization which funds health care for Palestinian and Lebanese victims of war, and other social welfare projects in Lebanon. In 1985, Zogby founded AAI. In 1993, following the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in Washington, he was asked by Vice President Al Gore to lead Builders for Peace, a private sector committee to promote U.S. business investment in the West Bank and Gaza. In his capacity as co-president of Builders, Zogby frequently traveled to the Middle East with delegations led by Vice President Gore and late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. In 1994, with former U.S. Congressman Mel Levine, his colleague as co-president of Builders, Zogby led a U.S. delegation to the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement in Cairo. Zogby also chaired a forum on the Palestinian economy at the Casablanca Economic Summit in 1994. After 1994, through Builders, Zogby worked with a number of US agencies to promote and support Palestinian economic development, including AID, OPIC, USTDA, and the Departments of State and Commerce. Dr. Zogby has also been personally active in U.S. politics for many years; in 1984 and 1988 he served as Deputy Campaign manager and Senior Advisor to the Jesse Jackson Presidential campaign. Most recently, in 1995 DNC Chairman Don Fowler appointed Zogby as co-convener of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Committee (NDECC), an umbrella organization of Democratic Party leaders of European and Mediterranean descent. In 1999 and 2001 he was reelected to that post. Also in 2001, he was appointed to the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in 2006 was also named Co-Chair of the DNC's Resolutions Committee. A lecturer and scholar on Middle East issues, U.S.-Arab relations, and the history of the Arab American community, Dr. Zogby appears frequently on television and radio. He has appeared as a regular guest on all the major network news programs. After hosting the popular "A Capital View" on the Arab Network of America from 1993-2001. From 2001 until now he hosts the award winning "Viewpoint with James Zogby" on Abu Dhabi Television, LinkTV, Dish Network, and DirecTV. Since 1992, Dr. Zogby has also written a weekly column on U.S. politics for the major newspapers of the Arab world. The column, "Washington Watch," is currently published in 14 Arab and South Asian countries. He has authored a number of books including two publications, "What Ethnic Americans Really Think" and "What Arabs Think: Values, Beliefs and Concerns." Dr. Zogby has testified before U.S. House and Senate committees, has been guest speaker on a number of occasions in the Secretary's Open Forum at the U.S. Department of State, and has addressed the United Nations and other international forums. Dr. Zogby is also active professionally beyond his involvement with the Arab American community. He currently serves on the national advisory board of the American Civil Liberties Union, The Human Rights Watch Board of Directors for the Middle East and North Africa and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Additionally, he is a Senior Advisor for the polling firm Zogby International, where he is responsible for the firm's groundbreaking polling across the Middle East. In 1975, Dr. Zogby received his doctorate from Temple University's Department of Religion, where he studied under the Islamic scholar Dr. Ismail al-Faruqi. He was a National Endowment for the Humanities Post-Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University in 1976, and on several occasions was awarded grants for research and writing by the Knight Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Defense Education Act, and the Mellon Foundation. Dr. Zogby received a Bachelor of Arts from Le Moyne College. In 1995, Le Moyne awarded Zogby an honorary doctoral of laws degree, and in 1997 named him the college's outstanding alumnus. In 2007 Temple University's College of Liberal Arts named him its Distinguished Alum. Dr. Zogby is married to Eileen Patricia McMahon and is the father of five children. Zogby's mother, Cecilia Ann, was a woman committed to religion, family, education, and service of others. Click here for Dr. Zogby's January 1999 reflections on the "Zogby Matriarch." 30.10.2012
During the last few weeks of this Presidential campaign, I have become terribly confused listening to Mitt Romney address America's foreign policy challenges. 

I have followed Romney's every word for almost two years now, and I simply don't recognize the guy who spoke at Virginia Military Institute on October 8th or the one who showed up to debate President Obama last week.

Since the beginning of this long campaign, Romney has given ten foreign policy addresses. At every turn he has positioned himself as a severe critic of the Administration, condemning the President for "diminishing American leadership" and "betraying the trust that allies place in the United States". Taking his cue from his bevy of neo-conservative advisers, Romney has appeared to embrace their tenets and even conflated their projection of American exceptionalism with elements of his own Mormon creed. His message has been that "America must lead through strength" and use its "great power to shape history". 

And so it has been baffling to witness the sudden transformation that now sees Romney largely agreeing with President Obama's approach to several areas and while feigning sharp criticism in others, still fundamentally agreeing with current policy. When he lamented the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations (after just recently dismissing the entire effort as hopeless) and then offered such benign pronouncements as "we can't kill our way out of this mess" or "we don't want another Iraq, we don't want another Afghanistan", I became thoroughly unsettled.

Listening to this "kinder and gentler" Romney, two questions came to mind. Was all this a tactical ploy to sway undecided voters? Or was this the candidate's declaration of independence from his neo-conservative advisers (three-quarters of whom are George W. Bush alumni)? Since Romney has also selectively veered away from many of his other "severely Conservative" views during the last few weeks of the campaign, I tend to believe that it is more of a crass tactical move than an assertion of independence. 

In describing Romney's effort at a "latter day make-over", President Obama has coined the word "Romnesia" suggesting that the candidate may have forgotten the positions he embraced throughout the campaign. I tend to disagree. I don't think Romney has forgotten a thing. I think he's counting on the fact that his base knows the game that's afoot and is willing to give him space to maneuver. The projection of the "new Romney" is directed at those Americans who are only now tuning in to the presidential contest and being introduced to the candidate for the first time. Romney is hoping that they will get to know him in his newly minted moderate incarnation. He is, likewise, hoping that some undecided voters who have heard him before will not recall the Romney of the primaries and believe that this "kinder and gentler" version is the one running for President.

I found it interesting that some non-partisan commentators remarked after the debate that both candidates seemed, at times, a bit off stride. It was no wonder. Romney has been playing a part for years now. Once dismissed as the seemingly moderate Governor of a liberal state, he was dismissed by the religious right and not trusted by the new GOP with its Tea Party activists and neo-conservative brain-trust. And so Romney remade himself into the Conservative darling. Back in 2008 when this transformation began, I didn't know what was more unbelievable—that Mitt Romney had in fact become a Conservative or that Conservatives really believed that he was a conservative.

He embraced his conservative identity to such a degree that in his now infamous taped off-the-cuff conversation with donors, he rather comfortably elaborated on how compatible his hard-line views were with the party's new mainstream. And so I don't doubt for a minute that adopting this new moderate posture has a bit disconcerting to candidate Romney. Cynics sometimes say that in politics "the best actor wins". Becoming a different person and feeling comfortable with the part may have been too much of a stretch for Romney.

For my way of thinking the act was too cute by half. I've heard of candidates changing their positions on critical issues over a period of years.  They sometimes even make a convincing case about the evolution of their views on same-sex marriage, or abortion, or global warming. But to make changes in one night or two weeks, without offering any explanation, is a bit too much to bear or trust.

I, therefore, understand the president being caught a bit off stride. He had prepared to debate the candidate whom we had all come to know for the past few years. Even Senator John Kerry, who had taken the Romney part in the President's debate preparation, expressed his surprise at much of what Romney said. Kerry remarked that these weren't the positions they had prepared to contest, nor was this the candidate they had prepared to debate.

The Mitt Romney who showed up on debate night was a different person. The questions for voters will be: for which Mitt Romney are they being asked to vote? And should he win, which Mitt Romney would show up for work?

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