Romney's Simple Belligerence

In December 2007 I was traipsing around New Hampshire following Mitt Romney, when news came of the attack on Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. The candidate held a hastily arranged avail outside a Nashua diner, in which he noted that there were still conflicting reports about whether Bhutto had died or not, let alone who was responsible -- but he then went on to blame "global, violent, radical jihad," and advocated for "civilized nations of the West" to come together "in great haste" to fight the threat. (Not having my Romney note files in front of me today, I am using Erin McPike's account.)

The point here is not whether Romney was right or not, but how quickly, and without facts or evidence, he was willing to publicly stir the pot on an unfolding international situation -- like he's done now with the Libya embassy attack, and has done other times during the current campaign.

Romney has a remarkably simple-minded belligerence toward international relations. As best as I have ever been able to figure, he took some tutelage from Bush-Cheney neocons sometime around 2004, decided on the ones he liked, and the theories he favored, and then kind of locked in from that point on.

His philosophy, discussed at length in No Apology and reiterated many times elsewhere, seems to be something of a mash-up of Samuel Huntington and Robert Kagan, interpreted by John Bolton; the world is full of civilizations that are all inferior to, and trying to topple, America, which must constantly clash with them in order to preserve and extend exceptionalism. Or something like that.

So when something happens in the world, you look to see what the worst civilization is in the area, and you assume that they did it as part of their attempt to topple the US, and so we need to go wipe them out to end the threat.

No need to wait to see what actually happened.

This is, of course, how we got into the Iraq War, which Romney enthusiastically supported. No need to wait to see whether Iraq had anything at all to do with 9/11. No need to consider the nuances of the region, or the likelihood that Hussein's blustering (and reluctance to prove himself unarmed) might have been about the threat he faced from Iran, not the threat he posed to us.  

On election night 2006, outside a somber Kerry Healey ballroom, I asked Eric Fehrnstrom whether in light of the national election results, already widely interpreted as rebuke to George W. Bush for the Iraq War, soon-to-be-Presidential-candidate Romney might consider a softening of his stance on that engagement. I don't have my notes in front of me, but the answer in a nutshell was "fat chance."

Romney doesn't re-think when it comes to foreign policy. He didn't rewrite those parts of the book.

He doesn't even re-think when the facts later come out.

Not long after No Apology came out, I saw Romney at a Ford Hall Forum event. It was April 8, 2010, and Obama and Medvedev had just signed the New START treaty that day.

At some point, Romney started talking about Russia, and surprised me by going on an extended riff about what a horrible thing New START was, and how the Obama negotiators had been snookered into a treaty that would actually allow the Russians to expand their nuclear arsenal while we are forced to greatly reduce ours.

Now, unlike Libya and Pakistan, I happen to know a little bit about Russia and nuclear-proliferation treaties, thanks to my mostly useless 1980s-era college concentration in Soviet politics. So I was scribbling down notes about his assertions regarding rail-based ICBMs, and MIRV-mounted aircraft, and thinking that this was all either quite interesting or complete bullshit.

Later I checked with a couple of experts I know, who told me that I must have misunderstood Romney, or perhaps he misunderstood the treaty, because none of the objections made any sense to anyone with any knowledge of current Russian capabilities.

And yet, three months later, there was a Romney op-ed in the Washington Post, making the same arguments I heard him make, erroneously, hours after the signing. Romney's completely addled misunderstandings and imaginary threats (eg, Russia does not even have any planes capable of carrying the kind of warheads he imagined them being transfered to) helped lead to right-wing opposition that very nearly prevented Senate ratification of the treaty -- which, by the way, has led to the actual safeguarding and eradication of actual potential "loose nuke" material that really is one of the world's greatest security threats.

But to Romney, Russia is one of the bad civilizations, which means we need to always be clashing with them; cooperation is really a form of surrender. The facts are just things you find someone to come up with to fit that premise.

That's why Romney wants to start a trade war with China on day one; it's why he wants to go to war with Iran; it's why he wishes we were still fighting in Iraq; it's why he thinks we should go on fighting endlessly in Afghanistan; it's why he faults Obama for not being more aggressive on behalf of Israel.

Do not expect anything to change. Unlike other issues, where Romney's business approach prompts him to analyze and re-evaluate based on complete and continually updated data, when it comes to foreign policy Romney has a truly data-free approach. His instantaneous reaction, prior to the facts coming in, will be the same as his conclusions a day later, or six months later.

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