An economy in shambles. Unemployment high, even in double digits in some states. Overseas conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East. The U.S. military strained by budget cuts. A growing sense that America has abdicated its leadership role -- being, in the words of the Republican presidential candidate, "unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations as the leader of the free world." And an incumbent president calling his Republican challenger a warmonger whose proposed defense buildup would yield more conflict and endanger America.
The year is 1980. Or 2012.
There are many foreign-policy similarities between this year's race and the one that ushered in the Reagan revolution and the end of the Cold War. And with a recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and his trip to Britain, Israel and Poland, Mitt Romney has begun outlining a foreign policy that embraces Ronald Reagan's legacy. He has highlighted the Obama administration's neglect of allies and its obsession with engaging enemies, and the resultant sense of an America adrift in a dangerous world.
This Reaganesque vision has been overshadowed by the media's obsession with several Romney "gaffes," and Boston's view that any day spent talking about something other than jobs and the economy is a lost opportunity. The campaign is also likely hesitant due to public opinion pollingthat shows President Barack Obama with a sizable advantage over Governor Romney on national security, the first time in decades that a Democratic candidate for the presidency is polling better than his Republican challenger on the issue.
Despite these challenges, as he delivers his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Tampa this week, the former Massachusetts governor has a foreign-policy message to be proud of -- a vision of an America that will once again lead rather than follow and that has the military resources to ensure the respect of its allies and the deterrence of its enemies.
It's troubling, then, that Romney has cited a story about then-President Reagan telling his close aide James Baker that he wanted no more meetings scheduled on foreign policy for the first 100 days of his presidency, because attention needed to be on turning around the economy. The story appears apocryphal, but in any case it's a poor model of presidential decision-making. Our enemies certainly won't wait 100 days to test Romney if he is elected president.
Just as Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate has encouraged the campaign to tackle controversial issues such as entitlement reform head on, so too should he be willing to engage President Obama on his national security record. Americans generally give President Obama -- who ordered the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden -- strong marks on national security. But his record is actually dismal.