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Holding Romney Accountable On Foreign Policy

When a presidential hopeful like Mitt Romney signs a Washington Post op-ed attacking the president for an arms agreement with Russia, there's a tendency among Democrats to shrug and ignore it. Mitt, we all understand, is a former governor with no foreign policy experience who needs to burnish his credentials in this area, even if it's only by bloviating. And Mitt, we know, is vulnerable on his right flank, partially because the GOP has decisively moved in a more conservative direction since Romney posed as the "true conservative" candidate in 2008, and partially because his sponsorship of a Massachusetts health reform initiative that's hard to distinguish from the hated ObamaCare is going to be a constant problem for him in 2012.

So you read Mitt's op-ed and maybe laugh at the extraordinary retro feeling of it all--you know, all the Cold War hostility to the godless Russkies--and note the many right-wing boxes he checked off, from the ancient conservative pet rock of missile defense, to the ill-repressed desire for war with North Korea and Iran, to the ritual denunciations of Obama for his alleged fecklessness in negotiating with bad people. But initially, few if any Democrats had anything to say about it.

That certainly changed today, when Sen. John Kerry took to the same WaPo pages to pen a devastating riposte to Romney for getting, well, just about all the facts wrong. After tearing Romney apart on missile defense, on MIRVs, on what the treaty would and wouldn't let the Russians do, and on the bipartisan support for what Obama's done, Kerry concluded with this well-placed jab:

I have nothing against Massachusetts politicians running for president. But the world's most important elected office carries responsibilities, including the duty to check your facts even if you're in a footrace to the right against Sarah Palin. More than that, you need to understand that when it comes to nuclear danger, the nation's security is more important than scoring cheap political points.

As it turns out, Kerry was nicer to Romney than was foreign policy wonk Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate:

In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and--let's not mince words--thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney's attack on the New START treaty in the July 6 Washington Post.

Whether or not Romney's efforts to display conservative ferocity on foreign policy work with the GOP base, he could pay a price down the road in terms of the impact on people who aren't hard-core conservative ideologues. Talking to progressives, you generally get the sense that while they would fight Mitt Romney like sin itself if he's the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, they basically think the man's sane and relatively competent, and wouldn't threaten the foundations of the Republic like some possibilities they could name. But a few more rabid op-eds on world affairs like Romney's latest effort will definitely undermine any latent tolerance for Romney in center-left precincts, and will also provide some target practice in case the endlessly flip-flopping former governor's act gets him to a general election.