Mitt Romney’s speech at VMI today confirmed every realist’s and non-interventionist’s worst fears about him: not only is his foreign-policy vision indistinguishable from that of George W. Bush — except that it may be more utopian and Wilsonian — but there’s no indication that any realist has the slightest influence on his strategic thinking.
That includes political realists: anyone who might convey to Mitt what a price the GOP paid for Bush’s wars in 2006 and 2008 — the price it will pay again in 2012, the way Mitt is going. Romney promised military Kenyesianism and was as demagogic as the best-paid Pentagon lobbyist in claiming “our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut.”
He attacked Obama for failing to extend America’s mission in Iraq — “America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence” — as if many more months (or years?) and untold scores of American lives lost would have done for Baghdad what eight years of nation-building failed to do. That’s a war Americans of all political backgrounds (even, quietly, not a few neoconservatives) are glad to see the back of, yet Mitt wants more. With a mindset like that, how long will he keep America’s sons and daughters fighting in Afghanistan?
He stopped short of saying he would send troops to Syria and Iran on day 1, but he telegraphed a clear commitment to brinksmanship and regime-change:
Iran today has never been closer to a nuclear weapons capability. It has never posed a greater danger to our friends, our allies, and to us. And it has never acted less deterred by America, as was made clear last year when Iranian agents plotted to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in our nation’s capital. And yet, when millions of Iranians took to the streets in June of 2009, when they demanded freedom from a cruel regime that threatens the world, when they cried out, “Are you with us, or are you with them?”—the American President was silent.
… I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region—and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination.
… In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran—rather than sitting on the sidelines.
This was not a speech he had to make — a speech distracting from the ground Romney had recently made up by refocusing his attention on the plight of America’s middle class. And if he had to make a foreign-policy speech, it did not have to cater to the neoconservatives and pork hawks already on his team. Nothing in this speech appeals to a war-weary and economically troubled people. It’s politically damaging. But he gave this speech anyway, and the only reasonable explanation is either that Mitt really believes — zealously — what he says, or else he’s entirely compliant to the ideological demands of right-wing Wilsonians. I suspect the latter is the case, and that portends a Romney presidency that would repeat all the errors of his Republican predecessor. The issue here is not even a reckless foreign policy versus a domestic policy that may give Republicans grounds for hope: a foreign policy like this will not permit much of a domestic policy at all. It will consume a presidency, just as it consumed George W. Bush’s.
P.S. Romney didn’t take Danielle Pletka’s advice: even the chief hawk at the most neoconservative think tank warned beforehand that “Mr. Romney needs to persuade people that he’s not simply a George W. Bush retread, eager to go to war in Syria and Iran and answer all the mail with an F-16” and “Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending.” I suspect a new tune will be sung now that the speech has been given, but it’s telling that Romney has outdone AEI itself in pushing an unrelenting “Long War” line.