Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said he largely approved of the administration’s calls for a transition in Egypt, then, on the day that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, failed to mention Egypt when he told a gathering of conservatives that Obama’s foreign policy had made the world “more dangerous.” Former House speaker Newt Gingrich agitated for a no-fly zone in Libya before criticizing Obama for instituting just that. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour questioned Republican orthodoxy by suggesting defense-spending cuts and troop reductions in Afghanistan. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is calling for action in Syria.
“I don’t necessarily see patterns developing in the foreign policy debate,” Bolton said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m considering running. I think it’s important not to have sound bites and bumper stickers but to have a sustained political discussion. Because there will come an evening in October of 2012 when there will be a debate between the Republican nominee and Barack Obama on national security issues.”
Bolton is not exactly an arbiter of mainstream foreign policy. Judged so extreme that Democrats blocked his appointment as ambassador (President George W. Bush responded with a recess appointment), Bolton supported Bush’s war in Iraq as a projection of American power. That operation didn’t shake out as planned.
A decade later, when a democratic movement swept through the Arab world, Bolton, more than any other Republican, stood firmly with Mubarak’s regime. Sometimes, he argued, American- and Israeli-aligned autocrats are preferable to unpredictable democracies, and he warned against free elections in Bahrain to avoid spreading the influence of Iran, which he isn’t entirely against bombing. He also advocates a more aggressive campaign to rid Libya of longtime leader Moammar Gaddafi.
The substance of those positions is arguable, and for Bolton’s legion of critics, so is the sanity. But not even they would accuse him of political calibration. Bolton’s views have an intellectual underpinning that he has abundantly articulated in essays, paid speeches and commentary. The problem, as he sees it, is that much of the recent Republican criticism has been partisan in nature. And before bashing Obama on Libya became politically palatable, the other Republicans in the field “weren’t saying much” at all about foreign policy.