The Mitt Romney Foreign Policy Bear Hug

Romney shifted his emphasis on key overseas issues in the third presidential debate, embracing White House positions he once disparaged.

Mitt Romney hardly recanted his critique of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record in Monday night’s debate, blaming the president for “tumult” in the Middle East and for what he called American weakness in the world. But on several key issues, the Republican—introducing his foreign policy views to low-information voters just now tuning in to the race and hearing his views—shifted his emphasis from outright condemnation of the administration into a surprising alignment with it.

Romney supported Obama’s timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, which he’d previously deemed feckless and dangerous, said the sanctions the administration has applied are the right approach to Iran, and sounded less hawkish about a trade war with China.

Here’s a rundown of Romney’s shifting rhetoric, then and now:

1. Afghanistan

Then: “What’s happening right now is an example of failed leadership. The president put out a specific time table for withdrawal of our troops, a time table for the end of combat operations. This is leading Mr. Karzai to take action that is self-preservation in nature. The president needs to be more engaged.” – March 18, 2012 on Fox News.

Debate: “Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014. And when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals are on track to do so. We’ve seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding apace.”

2. Iran

Then: “America and the world face a strikingly similar situation today; only even more is at stake. The same Islamic fanatics who took our diplomats hostage are racing to build a nuclear bomb. Barack Obama, America’s most feckless president since Carter, has declared such an outcome unacceptable, but his rhetoric has not been matched by an effective policy.” – March 5, 2012 in a Washington Post op-ed.

Debate: “Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.”

3. China

Then: “The sum total of my approach will ensure that this is an American, not a Chinese century. We have much to gain from close relations with a China that is prosperous and free. But we should not fail to recognize that a China that is a prosperous tyranny will increasingly pose problems for us, for its neighbors, and for the entire world.” – February 16, 2012 in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Debate: “We can be a partner with China. We don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them, we can collaborate with them, if they’re willing to be responsible.”