GOP conferees tout ‘exceptionalism’ but hew to moderate traditions


The first night of the GOP convention is all "we built it," and all about the economy.

Burbling about the margins of the convention, in clubs and lecture halls, Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisers are making their case for a renewal of American exceptionalism.

Make no mistake, the message, delivered with discipline, is that President Obama has diminished American leadership in the world.

What’s interesting is how much of the message is consistent with foreign policies embraced by Obama (and his predecessors.)


A return to exceptionalism was a theme sounded repeatedly today at an International Republican Institute event featuring Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator and currently in the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership; former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.); former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, and Rich Williamson, a top diplomat in the Reagan and both Bush administrations.

It’s a message encapsulated in the opening salvo of the convention platform’s foreign policy plank:

We are the party of peace through strength. Professing American exceptionalism – the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history – we proudly associate ourselves with those Americans of all political stripes who, more than three decades ago in a world as dangerous as today’s, came together to advance the cause of freedom

The surrogates, however, were at pains at the IRI event to stress that the plank did not necessarily supersede multilaterism, an approach that has come to define Obama’s foreign policy strategy.

"If you argue for a stronger U.S. role, this is somehow at odds with multilateral organizations, the exact opposite is true," Weber said. Instead, he said, a pronounced U.S. leadership in multilateral fora helps consolidate consensus.

Obama administration officials would likely agree — and say that is precisely how they have led, notably in helping to bring about regime change in Libya.

More particularly, there was at times consistency in the details of Republican foreign policy — or perhaps, more precisely, a preservation of moderate Republican principles, perhaps the one corner of GOP policy that the old guard has managed to defend against assaults by the Tea Party.

Coleman, at the IRI event, lamented that Americans did not understand that foreign assistance constituted just 1 percent of the national budget.

I asked him afterwards if he was worried that the budget cuts favored by the Tea Party would inhibit U.S. influence.

Coleman said that foreign aid spending, like all spending, would be subject to strict reviews in a Romney administration.

He added, however, that "It is important to educate the American public that it is just 1 percent." The good will that assistance engenders was a deterrent, he suggested. "Spending money on foreign aid is a less costly alternative to placing aircraft carriers."

(I also asked Coleman if he would try for his old Senate seat in 2014, which he lost by a hair to Al Franken in 2008. First, he said, he was focused on helping to elect Romney and retaking the Senate this year; then, he said, "We’ll see.")

Next, The Jerusalem Post’s Hilary Krieger and I cornered Talent, who, as Mitt Romney’s surrogate, successfully defeated attempts to remove references to "two states" from the platform.

Romney, Talent explained, "supports the Israeli government’s policy of pursuing the two-state solution," as long as the international community "understands that the United States will remain committed to Israel." 

He said that Republicans who advocated claims of Israeli title to the West Bank were "supportive of Israel" and that their "sentiments were right." But he said he told them: "It’s important the United States support the policies of the Israeli government. You all want to support Israel, let’s not use the Republican platform as a way to pressure the Israeli government to change its position."

Notably, on Tuesday evening, while keynote speakers — including Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired up the crowd, a Republican Jewish Coalition endorsement of the platform landed in inboxes — leading, naturally, with another paean to American excpetionalism.

But the excerpts the RJC singled out were telling — particularly one supporting "Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security." 

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