Romney foreign policy speech: He needs to prove the critics wrong

When Romney addresses cadets at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, the pressure for him to perform will have never been higher. Coming from a triumphant performance at Wednesday night’s presidential debate, conservatives will be anxious for him to maintain his momentum with a solid foreign policy address that highlights a deep knowledge of the issues, describes concrete steps he will take after taking office, and highlights President Barack Obama’s foreign affairs failures over the last four years. Following the recent murders of Americans in Benghazi and the administration’s botched response to the attacks, many expect to see a strong indictment of the president’s actions, coupled with a clear picture of what Romney would have done differently and plans to do if elected.

And liberals will be prepared to pounce on any opportunity Romney gives them to reiterate assertions that he is especially weak in foreign policy, lacking a nuanced understanding of the issues and a clear vision to move the country forward.

To ignite his base and silence detractors, here are a few pointers Romney should take to heart.

-Be specific.

In a great two-part series, American Enterprise Institute Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies Danielle Pletka challenged Romney on a Sept. 30 Wall Street Journal editorial  that took Obama to task for his foreign policy missteps, but didn’t provide any alternatives.

“It???s not enough to say that Barack Obama is bequeathing to his successor a world less safe, less prosperous, and less American than the one we enjoyed four years ago,” she wrote. “Americans want to elect a man with more than simply the vision to note that his opponent stinks. What???s yours?”

Helpfully, she gave Romney a few starting points: set America’s own “red lines” with Iran and toss out ongoing coalition negotiations as a failed effort; taking a stand with Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt by “letting them know publicly that protecting minorities, women, Christians, free enterprise and American interests is the sine qua non of a relationship with the United States;” and supporting freedom by throwing more U.S. weight behind the Syrian opposition, among other things.

-Talk about the Obama administration’s broken promises and lies, and zoom in on the most significant ones.

Over at the Washington Post, conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin tells Romney to concentrate on the administration’s failure to stop nuclear development in Iran and its missteps and misinformation following the Benghazi attacks.

“He should point the finger directly at the president for perpetrating the ludicrous idea that an anti-Muslim video made the jihadists do it,” she writes. “And he should properly rebuke Clinton and Obama for going on Pakistani TV to express remorse over it. No wonder Muslim countries want us to ban free speech; they think they have a receptive audience in the Obama administration.”

Meanwhile, she says, he should more subtly draw attention to the president’s other unkept promises, such as his failure to close Guantanamo Bay.

-Facts, figures, bullet points.

Romney took the early lead in Wednesday???s debate by answering his first question with a detailed and concrete five-step plan to get the U.S. economy back on track. Some have suggested that Romney has been intentionally vague so far on foreign policy in order to focus public discussion more fully on the struggling American economy, but this is the time to stop holding back.

Romney needs to dig into his deep bench of foreign policy and security advisers and finesse a policy message that is decisive, coherent, and specific. We’ve heard him discuss his admiration of Ronald Reagan, his endorsement of American exceptionalism, and his commitment to “an American century.” Now we need to hear the top five things he plans to do upon walking into the Oval Office. Facing the cadets, he should seize the chance to provide more detail about his plans to funnel more money into defense and expand on figures he really believes in, such as, perhaps, his plans announced at the Citadel a year ago to reverse Obama???s cuts to national missile defense and to move forward with a new multilayered system.

Finally, Romney needs to outline a vision that is clear enough that running mate Paul Ryan will be able to reiterate his message and send it home three days later, when Ryan debates foreign policy wonk Joe Biden in the vice presidential face-off.

The pressure is on for Romney: it???s time for him to prove his critics wrong.