While Economy Talk Dominates the Convention, Exploring Romney's Foreign Policy

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So Mitt Romney's stand on foreign policy issues, from Syria to Iran to Afghanistan and more, will come under scrutiny this fall, even if it is not a major focus here in Tampa this week.

After a surprise appearance here last night for his wife Ann's speech, the GOP presidential hopeful headed to Indianapolis today.  At the American Legion convention there, Romney said his administration would focus on unemployed veterans.

MITT ROMNEY (R), Presidential Candidate:  Overwhelmingly, the number one concern I hear from young veterans can be summed up in one word: jobs.  They have served their country.  They want to get back to work.  They need and deserve good jobs.

And this president's greatest failure is that he has not delivered those jobs.  As president, I will get America to work again.


GWEN IFILL:  So, where does Mitt Romney stand on foreign policy?

We are joined by former Congressman Vin Weber, a top adviser with the Romney campaign, and former senator norm Coleman.  Both are from Minnesota, as it happens.

GWEN IFILL:  I want to start by asking you…

VIN WEBER, Former  U.S. Congressman:  As I'm sure you wish you were.


GWEN IFILL:  I meant it in the best possible way.


GWEN IFILL:  I want to start by asking you, Vin Weber, there has been so little conversation in this campaign about foreign policy.  How can that be?

VIN WEBER:  Because the economy is so bad.  The economy — this is the worst recovery from a recession that we have maybe ever had in American history.

We have almost 40 percent of the unemployed that have been unemployed for over two years.  The long-term unemployment problem is enormous.  It's taking a human toll beyond the economic toll.  And it's hard for people to focus on things beyond our shores when the economy is so bad here and they're worried about jobs and incomes and home values and how to pay for their kids' college tuition.

But it doesn't mean that the world has stopped, and we do have to pay some attention to it.

GWEN IFILL:  Let me ask you, Senator, a very specific question then about Norm — you're Norm Coleman — about Mitt Romney's foreign policy and that's on Syria.  What would he do with Bashar al-Assad that this administration is not doing?

NORM COLEMAN (R), Former U.S. Senator:  Well, had he been in office a year-and-a-half ago, his secretary of state wouldn't have called Assad a reformer.  That's clear.

He would have stepped in I think a lot sooner.  Stepped in, I'm not talking about American troops on the ground, but figure out who is the moderate opposition.  We're leading from behind.  We outsourced America's Syrian policy to Kofi Annan, which The Washington Post, by the way, called his efforts which we empowered.  This is what we were going to do.  We're going to let Kofi do it.

They called it the worst diplomatic disaster in U.N. history.  Now, that's a pretty broad statement.  So, up front, I think he would have been at the table.  We would have been working right away with the folks in the coalition of the concerned in the region, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates.

And so it's not about America alone, but we need to have a seat at the table.  We haven't had a seat at the table.  And, as a result, tens of thousands, now 17,000, 20,000 have been killed.  The bad guys have a better chance of taking over because we haven't led.

VIN WEBER:  Well, Norm's point is really critical.  We have friends in the region that might be willing to do something, the Arab League, Turkey, but they're uncertain about the United States' response.

GWEN IFILL:  The United Nations' response that it took through the United Nations wasn't sufficient?

VIN WEBER:  The United Nations is not sufficient and they're not sure what we would do.

Turkey is beside themselves with concern about the refugee problem on their northern border and the Kurds, but they're not certain about our posture or they would probably take more effective action.

NORM COLEMAN:  Sometimes, we have to be very honest that the United States at times — and we have seen it with Iran and we have seen it with Syria — because of Russia and because of China, sometimes is unprepared to act.

But it doesn't mean that there are those — there are those in the region who have a real stake in this and who understand it.  There are those we could work with.  You can't wait.  If we can't move the Russians — and our Russian reset, by the way, is another failure of this administration.  It didn't get us very much.  We pulled the plug out from our friends in Poland and Czech Republic on missile defense.

The Russian reset has got us very little.  It has got us very little in Syria.  As a result, the U.N. is somewhat paralyzed, can't act, and there are those who can act and should have acted.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  But that calls to mind the comment that Governor Romney made not long ago, Vin Weber, and that was, he called Russia the greatest enemy that the United States has.

VIN WEBER:  Well, I have to correct you, Judy.  He said the greatest geopolitical foe, and the words matter a great deal.

He was talking about Russia as a diplomatic and political competitor to the United States.  The Democrats interpreted that — misinterpreted it to mean a military threat.  He didn't say that.  He said a geopolitical foe.  And if you look at how Russia has treated us in the United Nations on the Syria issues and many others, there's good reason to believe that they are, indeed, our main political and diplomatic competitor on the world stage.

GWEN IFILL:  More than China?  More than China?

VIN WEBER:  I think along on the same league, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Let me just broaden this out though to ask you how tough is it for Governor Romney to make the case against President Obama?

This is the president who led the raid — or was president and gave the go-ahead for the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.  He is the president who pulled the troops finally out of Iraq and has set a deadline for pulling troops out of Afghanistan.

NORM COLEMAN:  First, we all applaud the fact that Osama bin Laden is dead and we give credit, by the way, to the president for making a good decision and the men and women on the ground who made that happen.

It's interesting.  You could ask the same question on foreign policy as you can ask and we have asked in domestic policy, are we better off today than we were four years ago?  Is America's position — is Iran further away from getting a nuclear weapon than it was four years ago?  Is Israel more secure than it was four years ago?  Is the Soviet Union a better friend in spite of the reset four years ago?

I think this president has set out to be liked, but not respected, not respected.  And you look at Latin America in Cartagena, when he had the Latin American summit.  Our president was in effect dissed by the Latin Americans.  So are we better off today in terms of foreign policy than we were four years ago?  I don't think the answer to that is yes.

GWEN IFILL:  Well, let me ask you this.  Four years ago at this convention, you nominated John McCain, who is America's veteran, a prisoner of war, a hero.

There were stars and stripes everywhere in this hall.  This year, you're nominating two men, neither of whom have had any military service or any real foreign policy background.  How does that happen?

VIN WEBER:  Well, the fact is the veterans population in the country is dwindling a lot.  And there was a time when almost anybody in public life was a veteran.  That's not the case anymore.

But I would argue with that they don't have any foreign policy experience.  Mitt Romney has done business all around the world.  He understands the economic interrelationships of the world.  And I think that Paul Ryan gets a bum rap for no foreign policy experience — 14 years in the Congress.  He headed the Trade Subcommittee of Ways and Means and he heads the Budget Committee.

And I was on the Budget Committee one time.  You have to know about the defense budget, the foreign aid budget, the State Department budget in order to put together the budget, and he's been doing it for 14 years.

NORM COLEMAN:  And the reason why we have Mitt Romney the head of the ticket is because the issue today is jobs.

And as the governor likes to say, it helps to have had a job to know how to grow a job.  He knows how to grow jobs.  He's grown jobs.  The economy is in the issue.  And you have got two folks — the economy, by the way, in debt, and you have got a president who promised employment wouldn't go above 8 percent after his $850 billion surplus.

It's been 42 months over 8 percent.  Our debt has gone to $15 trillion.  It's now to $16 trillion.  Paul Ryan understands about debt.  These why those guys are leading the ticket, because they're responding to concerns that Americans have.


GWEN IFILL:  Go ahead, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  No, I was just going to say that the other thing that comes to mind immediately is that Governor Romney has spent a lot of time talking about China, declaring China as soon as he is elected president a currency manipulator.

Yesterday, the former Republican Governor of Michigan John Engler, the head of Business Roundtable (an association of CEOs leading U.S. companies), said he didn't think that Mitt Romney meant that, that he would do that if he was elected president.

NORM COLEMAN:  Oh, I think Mitt Romney…

VIN WEBER:  Yes.  I love John Engler, but I disagree with him.

I have discussed this directly a long time ago with Governor Romney.  He feels very viscerally about China.  I don't think at the end of the day his objective is a trade war.  I think his objective is to increase the leverage of the American president in negotiating with China on a whole range of issues, from intellectual property on.

And I think he believes that he's better capable of doing that because of his past experience than, frankly, either this president or the last president.

GWEN IFILL:  Vin Weber, Norm Coleman, both former members of Congress, senior policy advisers to Mitt Romney, thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And both from the state of Minnesota.

VIN WEBER:  We welcome you to Minnesota at any time.

NORM COLEMAN:  Lots of lakes, lots of good fishing.

GWEN IFILL:  We will come.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Thank you both.

VIN WEBER:  Thank you.