As the crystal ball on the 2016 Republican presidential nomination remains cloudy, two-time loser Mitt Romney appears willing at least to entertain the possibility of trying a third time.
In addition to occasional comments on matters he knows a lot about, including setting up a health care insurance plan (in Massachusetts) and how to create jobs as well as personal wealth, Mr. Romney has now put on a hat as a defense and foreign policy expert.
It's a weapon in his arsenal that he conspicuously lacked in 2012, when he made a mid-campaign trip to Europe and succeeded chiefly ruffling local feathers in Britain, Israel and Poland. Now, in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, the former business whiz and Bay State governor has offered himself as a military and foreign affairs kibitzer, and this time he seems on safer political ground, at home anyway.
He has taken on President Barack Obama's measured — or, as critics put it, overcautious — preliminary observations about the Islamic State terrorist threat in the Middle East and Russia's land-grab of Crimea and other adventurism. He assaults what he calls "the decimation of our defense" and Mr. Obama's willingness to yield leadership to "a multipolar world" rather than a strong United States "maintaining the existing one."
Mr. Romney writes that "some argue" that America should simply "get out of the Middle East, accept nuclear weapons in Iran and elsewhere, let China and Russia have their way with their neighbors and watch from the sidelines as jihadists storm on two or three continents." This is a rather inexact reading of what Mr. Obama has already said of his intentions to go forward in each battleground. So is Mr. Romney's observation that "some" insist that America's military "is already so much stronger than that of any other nation that we can safely cut it back again and again."
He warns that the Russian nuclear arsenal is larger and that in six years the Chinese navy will be larger, brushing aside whether sheer numbers are what constitute effective deterrence.
But then Mr. Romney pivots to more comfortable philosophical ground. "Politicians, and many of the people who elect them," he writes, "want to keep up spending here at home. Entitlements and programs are putting pressure on the federal budget. We either cut defense, or we cut spending on ourselves. That, or raise taxes."
No doubt that by "ourselves" Mr. Romney is inadvertently referring once again to "the 47 percent of Americans" who he said in 2012 never would vote for him — likely costing him that election — those consumers of "entitlements" like Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net goodies of federal largesse.
Mr. Romney's op-ed was a far cry from his 2012 gaffes in Europe. Then, in London, he drew sharp jibes from British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson after offending them by questioning whether the Brits were ready for the approaching Summer Olympic Games in London. Mr. Cameron particularly needled Mr. Romney, the man who had helped bring the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City, by observing it was lot easier bringing the games to "the middle of nowhere" than to London.
Moving on to Israel and Poland, it was more of the same when Mr. Romney irritated Palestinians in Jerusalem by speculating that cultural differences resulted from the economic disparity in the divided city. And in Poland, when he was asked at a cherished Polish tomb about his gaffes, Mr. Romney aides angrily disparaged and waved off caged-in reporters.
It may be that this pivot is another tentative Mr. Romney toe in the presidential waters to sense whether it's too hot for him to try a third time. Or it could just be Mr. Romney's bid to retain a credible voice in Republican Party affairs as a respected and loyal elder statesman.
Either way, he still has a long way to go to establish himself as leading GOP voice on a foreign policy that currently is under heavy fire at home and abroad.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is email@example.com.To respond to this commentary, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and contact information.