Does the Romney-Ryan lack of foreign policy experience matter?

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and his running mate Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speak at a campaign rally in Mooresville, North Carolina, Aug. 12, 2012. Getty

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
Getty

(CBS News) Among the perceived weaknesses on former venture capitalist and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's presidential resume is a lack of experience in handling foreign policy. His choice of a running mate doesn't help much in that department.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., author of the House GOP budget, has spent his congressional career focused on fiscal policy: He's the chairman of the House Budget Committee and also serves on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. While Ryan, who is 42, has occasionally addressed foreign policy, his focus has overwhelmingly been elsewhere. And neither he nor Romney has served in the military.

Even before the Ryan pick, Republicans were struggling to articulate their presumptive nominee's qualifications to be commander-in-chief. Asked by Foreign Policy earlier this month to explain why Romney was ready to lead the U.S. internationally, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., reportedly paused and took a deep breath before responding. "Listen, he's certainly traveled the world in business, which is good," he said. Johnson then suggested Romney's commitment to America's economic security translates to strong national security.

The 2012 election, of course, is likely to be decided largely on domestic economic matters. With Americans largely focused on the still-fragile economic recovery, foreign policy has gotten relatively little attention from the presidential candidates. But it's worth noting that Romney and Ryan have less experience on foreign policy than most, if not all, of the presidential tickets over the past several decades.

Consider recent history. President Obama, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his brief Senate tenure, blunted criticism of his lack of foreign policy experience by picking Joe Biden, the longtime chairman of that committee, as his running mate. The Republican ticket in 2008 was headed by former war hero Sen. John McCain, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

The 2004 Democratic ticket was led by military veteran Sen. John Kerry, a longtime member of the Foreign Relations Committee. The 2000 and 2004 Republican ticket included former Gov. George W. Bush, who had some military experience in the National Guard but virtually no foreign policy experience. He chose former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to boost the ticket's foreign policy credentials.

2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore had been vice president for eight years, and his running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, had served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The GOP nominees in 1996, Bob Dole and Jack Kemp, were both veterans.

Arguably, the 1992 Democratic ticket was light on foreign policy experience, as Bill Clinton only had experience as Arkansas governor. But that ticket still seems to trump Romney-Ryan: Vice Presidential nominee Al Gore had served as a military journalist in Vietnam as well as on the Senate Intelligence Committee. (For more examples of the party nominees' foreign policy and military experience dating back to 1972, check out this post from Salon.com.)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, is an Army veteran who saw an infamous photo of him riding in a tank turned into an ad that suggested he would be soft on defense. He told CBS News the Romney-Ryan ticket's lack of foreign policy experience matters.

"Romney's trip abroad was a disaster," he said in reference to Romney's gaffe-filled swing through London, Israel and Poland.

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