CHARLOTTE — Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), considered a shortlist candidate to be secretary of state if Democrats hold the White House, offered a robust defense of President Obama’s national security record and an equally blistering critique of Mitt Romney’s limited resume.
“We’ve all learned Mitt Romney doesn’t know much about foreign policy,” Kerry said. “But he has all these neocon advisers who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them — after all, he’s the great outsourcer.”
For Kerry, the speech was at least in part an exorcism of his own foreign policy demons. As the Democratic nominee two election cycles back, Kerry was savaged as a “flip flopper” at the Republicans’ 2004 convention. This time, Kerry clearly relished the chance to do the same to another Massachusetts nominee often tagged with the same epithet.
In the most brutal section of his speech, Kerry highlighted Romney’s mixed messages on a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan and military intervention in Libya.
“It isn’t fair to say Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan — he has every position,” Kerry said. “He was against setting a date for withdrawal, then he said it was right and then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was ‘tragic’ to leave Iraq, and then he said it was fine. He said we should’ve intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to duck reporters’ questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a ‘better place’ because the intervention succeeded.”
Echoing his own familiar quote demonized by Bush in 2004, Kerry said: “Talk about being for it before you were against it!”
He didn’t let up on the flip-flop theme, waiting for the applause to subside before delivering one of the best received lines at the convention.
“Mr. Romney — here’s a little advice,” he said. “Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!”
He went on to criticize Romney for opposing Obama’s nuclear arms treaty with Russia, which was backed by an array of former Republican Secretaries of State, and for labeling the nation America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” Kerry argued actions like these reflected an antiquated Cold War mentality.
“Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska,” he said. “Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching ‘Rocky IV.’”
As for Obama, Kerry praised him for his combination of diplomacy to bring America’s allies closer and military force to repel its enemies. Equally as important, he contrasted him with Romney as an honest broker who kept his promise to leave Iraq, will keep his promise to leave Afghanistan,and wasn’t kidding around when he said in 2008 he’d take the war to al-Qaeda.
“After more than 10 years without justice for thousands of Americans murdered on Sept. 11, after Mitt Romney said it would be ‘naive’ to go into Pakistan to pursue the terrorists, it took President Obama, against the advice of many, to give that order to finally rid this earth of Osama bin Laden,” Kerry said. “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago!”
While the election has overwhelmingly focused on the economy, with some social issues popping up, Mitt Romney has been a strong critic of the White House on foreign policy. His book “No Apology” in its title alone was a rebuke of what Republicans claim was an “apology tour” by Obama to repair relations abroad after President Bush’s unpopular administration. Romney and other Republicans also frequently suggest Obama doesn’t believe in “American exceptionalism,” a phrase that’s come into vogue on the right.
Kerry dismissed such attacks as bluster from “the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.”
Romney raised eyebrows in his own speech by failing to mention Afghanistan, and Kerry seized on that point.
“No nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech,” he said. “Mitt Romney was talking about America. They are on the front lines every day defending America, and they deserve our thanks.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.