Failure to Launch

Why Romney's critique of Obama's foreign policy record will not fly

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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Romney has tried to dredge up the standard-issue Cold War Republican attack on Democrats: the world is dangerous, our enemies are growing strong, and Obama is weak. The problem is, most Americans recognize that none of this is true. The world is actually quite peaceful right now; our adversaries--like Iran--are weak and isolated. China is growing strong but has not used its power to contest America in national-security terms. The one enemy Americans recognize and worry about remains al-Qaeda and its affiliated Islamic terrorist groups, and Obama has been relentless in attacking them.

Mitt Romney is a smart man who has had much professional success. But even Republican insiders have admitted to me that he has been strangely amateurish on foreign policy. His campaign, they note, is not staffed by the obvious Republican foreign policy heavyweights--people like Robert Zoellick, Richard Armitage, Richard Haass and Stephen Hadley. As a result, he has blustered about Russia's being our greatest geopolitical adversary (actually it is a second-rate power), seems willing to start a trade war with China, is vague yet belligerent about Syria and Iran and has gone back and forth on the timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Romney faces a tough problem. President Obama is the first Democrat in nearly 50 years to enter an election with a dramatic advantage in foreign policy. (The last time was Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater in 1964.) Unless Romney can craft a smart, strategic alternative, that gap will only get wider.

TO READ MORE BY FAREED ZAKARIA, GO TO time.com/zakaria

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