Daniel Larison

The Bin Laden Ad and Romney’s 2007 “Comprehensive Strategy” to Combat Jihadism

Peter Feaver comments on the Obama campaign’s Bin Laden ad:

The critique of Romney was fundamentally dishonest in the way that campaign ads often are. The ad cherry-picked Romney quotes and deployed them out of context.

This is absolutely true. Romney’s position at the time was that he favored launching attacks or raids into Pakistan without its government’s knowledge or approval, but objected to talking about it publicly. The Obama campaign’s attack was very dishonest.

It’s not as if the decision to order the raid was obviously and unquestionably the right decision to make when it was made. There were members of the Cabinet advising a different course of action. There were valid reasons to object to ordering the raid, and the decision was a calculated risk that could have ended badly. The worst part of the attack may have been that it intensified the bad American habit of excessively personalizing national security issues and identifying the elimination of various individual villains with the overall improvement of U.S. security, as if killing a particular villain happens without incurring any costs. As Paul Pillar pointed out recently, it once again unnecessarily elevated Bin Laden’s stature:

As early as the late 1990s, well before 9/11, the counterterrorist focus on Bin Laden personally had become strong and sharp. Also that early, some U.S. officials came to realize that the heavy attention to this one man tended to serve some of his own purposes by elevating his stature. But we were never able to get away from that sort of attention, and we are still serving some of bin Laden’s purposes by continuing to dwell on him.

Oddly enough, Obama’s campaign could have delivered a more effective attack against Romney (and one that wouldn’t be producing the same backlash) if it had just quoted Romney’s related statement from earlier in 2007 or the full interview statement. That’s why the the next part of what Feaver wrote doesn’t make as much sense:

The valid Romney observation that defeating al Qaeda would require a comprehensive strategy, not one limited to hunting down a single man, got distorted by the Obama scriptwriters into a hesitation to pursue Bin Laden.

Feaver fails to mention that the “comprehensive strategy” that Romney had in mind was ridiculous and was based on a basic ignorance of the distinctions between jihadists and other Islamists and the differences among various Islamist groups. These are Romney’s exact words from the earlier 2007 debate:

We’ll move everything to get him. But I don’t want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there’s going to be another and another. This is about Shi’a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate [bold mine-DL].

This is as absurd as any declaration about “Islamofascism.” In an interview, he said this:

I think, I wouldn’t want to over-concentrate on Bin Laden. He’s one of many, many people who are involved in this global Jihadist effort. He’s by no means the only leader. It’s a very diverse group – Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and of course different names throughout the world [bold mine-DL]. It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person. It is worth fashioning and executing an effective strategy to defeat global, violent Jihad and I have a plan for doing that.

When we put Romney’s statements on Bin Laden into its proper context, we find that the Obama campaign simply lied about his position. We also find that Romney didn’t distinguish between different sects, nor did he distinguish between local militias and international jihadist groups, and he identified all of them as part of “the worldwide jihadist effort” (or as different parts of “global, violent Jihad”) striving for the same goal. If the Obama campaign wanted to discredit Romney in the eyes of the public on his understanding of the threat from jihadism, all they would have had to do was quote Romney accurately. They chose to engage in some cheap point-scoring demagoguery instead.

Perhaps someone will say that Romney was simply pandering to hard-line anti-jihadist sentiment as part of his attempt to make himself acceptable to Republican primary voters. If so, he didn’t abandon his argument after the 2008 election, but included it in a foreign policy speech in 2009:

The fourth strategy is that of the Jihadists. By means of escalating violence, they intend to cause the collapse of the other three competing visions, dragging the entire world back into a medieval dictatorship ruled by Mullahs and Ayatollahs.

Romney was once again confusing all sorts of different groups and sects under the catch-all term of “the Jihadists.” The statement he made at the debate in 2007 wasn’t a one-time blunder. It reflected a basically incorrect and uninformed view of jihadism and the broader Islamic world.

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Judging Competence on Foreign Policy

James Joyner continues the discussion on candidates’ foreign policy experience (or lack thereof):

Obama’s chartable experience in 2008 was a little under four years in the Senate–the vast bulk of which he spent campaigning for president. And, as I’ve noted multiple times now in multiple posts, it doesn’t seem to much matter. While I disagree with a lot of his policy decisions, he’s been a very effective leader, assembled a solid team, and done a creditable job as president. There have been flubs along the way, some of which might have been avoided if he’d been more seasoned, but that’s just the nature of our system: we tend to hire relative amateurs to the presidency.

James is right that Americans have tended to elect “relative amateurs” to the office, but there does seem to be a relationship between foreign policy competence in office and earlier preparation and knowledge. If we were ranking post-WWII presidents by their foreign policy competence, Eisenhower, Nixon, and the elder Bush would most likely be at the top, and Carter, Kennedy, and George W. Bush would be at the bottom. Reagan, Ford, and Clinton would be the middle, which is probably where Obama should be. Depending on what one wants to emphasize, Truman could be ranked higher up on the list, or he could be included at the bottom where he probably belongs*. That doesn’t mean that the top-ranked presidents did everything right or that the overall failures never had individual policy successes. The most competent ones left the U.S. in a generally better position internationally than the one they had found it in, and these were not the “relative amateurs.”

On paper, George W. Bush was technically more experienced as a governor than Romney, and almost as experienced as Clinton in terms of number of years in office. Even so, we would all automatically assume that Romney to be a generally more competent executive than Bush, whose main claim to executive experience was based on his time in a constitutionally-weak governor’s position. When it comes to foreign policy, however, the two seem to be similarly uninterested in and uninformed about the rest of the world. The perception of Bush as inexperienced and unprepared on this front was not wrong. This is arguably more worrisome in Romney’s case because he appears to have no firm principles, which makes him more vulnerable to influence from his advisers, and because he usually has a reputation for being very detail-oriented in his understanding of other subjects. Bush was poorly informed about foreign affairs, but that was a function of his lack of intellectual curiosity. What accounts for Romney’s apparent lack of interest in a subject that he still can’t seem to stop bringing up? I don’t know, but I submit that it’s not a good sign.

In a comment responding to my previous post, James said:

And, as noted in the post, it doesn’t much seem to matter: we’ve had very good presidents who came into office seemingly untested and very poor ones with impressive backgrounds [bold mine-DL].

Which were the poor ones with “impressive backgrounds”? I have been assuming that we’re talking specifically about foreign policy records, and not anything else they may have done or failed to do. Assuming that the five worst foreign policy presidents since 1900 were Wilson, Bush, LBJ, Carter, and Kennedy, which of these had an “impressive background” that would have led the electorate to expect something different? Isn’t it rather the case that the most disastrous foreign policy presidents have been those with the least preparation and experience? Aren’t the examples of Wilson and Bush warnings of what can happen when ill-informed men susceptible to outlandish and ideological assumptions are elected to the office?

It might not be as much of a problem if Romney were advocating a foreign policy characterized by restraint, prudence, and caution. That would be much better-suited to someone who hasn’t given a lot of serious thought to foreign policy. Unfortunately, he isn’t advocating that. The gap between the ambitious and aggressive nature of Romney’s proposed foreign policy and the preparation and knowledge needed to conduct such a foreign policy is huge. It should also tell us something that most of the least prepared presidents had the most grandiose and ambitious visions for U.S. foreign policy, and in those cases the U.S. suffered greatly for their misguided and excessive vision and their lack of preparation. Romney’s proposed foreign policy is not if not ambitious, and his statements to date haven’t inspired a lot of confidence that his stated policy goals are worth pursuing or that he is the one to be trusted to pursue them.

* The posthumous rehabilitation of Truman as one of the great Democratic foreign policy presidents must be one of the most successful and incredible acts of historical revisionism in modern times. When hawkish Republicans want to praise past Democratic presidents, they invariably celebrate Truman and Kennedy, who were among the least successful.

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Romney’s Foreign Policy Attacks Are a Pointless Distraction for His Campaign

Jennifer Rubin’s complaints about the Romney campaign are no less ridiculous in their way than her criticisms of the administration on China, but they are much more amusing:

Last year, Romney gave a forceful foreign policy speech and released a white paper….Since then, Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements have been sporadic, defensive and incomplete. It is not for lack of brilliant and competent foreign policy experts. What is lacking is the will and determination [bold mine-DL] to communicate on a sustained basis Romney’s foreign policy views and highlight the contrasts between him and the president. It’s high time the campaign went on offense and stopped merely deflecting Obama’s attacks. In short, the Romney team needs to “man up” on national security.

It’s easy to dismiss this as nothing more than the inevitable dissatisfaction of a hawkish ideologue, but it also shows a curious lack of attention to what the Romney campaign has been doing over the last few months. Considering that Romney has been competing in semi-meaningful primary contests until late last month, he and his campaign have already devoted an inordinate amount of time to foreign policy. It hasn’t been working for them, and for Romney’s sake they need to stop it.

Romney and his campaign have been attacking Obama’s policies on China, Iran, and Russia in recent months. February was the month for China-bashing and making lame criticisms of the “pivot” to Asia. Early March was the time for Romney to publish a bad op-ed on Iran. The campaign then spent much of the second half of March trying to make an issue out of the missile defense non-controversy. Last week saw a rather desperate-sounding campaign attack that was little more than an exercise in throwing a lot of things at the wall to see what would stick. They have been on offense, they have been picking fights, and they have been losing. Worst of all for them, they don’t seem to know that they’re losing.

What still doesn’t make sense is why the Romney campaign thinks threatening a trade war with China or promising to wreck relations with Russia is advantageous, or why launching more attacks along these lines would benefit Romney politically. It may not hurt Romney to indulge in ritual China-bashing, but Romney is hardly plausible as an economic nationalist. For the most part, his rhetoric on China has produced a lot of mockery and derision and not much else. Romney isn’t going to lose any persuadable voters because he rejects current Russia policy, since persuadable voters usually care about foreign policy even less than most other voters, but it isn’t gaining him anything, either.

Focusing so much on foreign policy is mostly a distraction for the campaign, but it’s one that they can’t seem to resist. It’s also a waste of time and resources that could be better spent focusing on domestic and specifically economic issues. Romney is unlikely to lose the election because of foreign policy issues as such, but his opportunity costs are increasing the more time and energy he takes away from what is supposed to be his core election message. At the moment, he is handing the Obama campaign a lot of ammunition to use to ridicule his judgment and his experience, and he is allowing them to frame the election in a way that is tedious and demagogic (“Bin Laden dead and GM alive”) but also most advantageous to Obama. What Romney doesn’t need to do is engage in pointless feuds over Obama’s handling of every event that occurs overseas. It doesn’t just make Romney look bad to those Republicans who actually think dissenting against the executive’s conduct of foreign policy is poor form, but it pulls him into unnecessary controversies over things that are irrelevant to most voters and to Romney’s campaign.

P.S. I meant to mention this earlier, but Rubin’s complaint about the Romney campaign includes another bad neoconservative habit of explaining any perceived failure in terms of a lack of will, as if all that were needed to make a certain policy or campaign strategy successful was an extra dose of willpower and resolve. These people would tell Sisyphus that he just needs to focus and try harder.

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Bolton and Romney on Foreign Policy

Edward Luce needs to work on his terminology:

Even the “paleocons” warmed to Mr Romney. At the start of the year John Bolton, the fire and brimstone former US ambassador to the UN, endorsed Mr Romney even though Newt Gingrich promised to make him his secretary of state.

Obviously, Bolton isn’t a “paleocon” by any definition, and neither is he strictly a neoconservative. Bolton is often mistakenly referred to as a neoconservative because he is a nationalist hard-liner whose positions often align with those of neoconservatives, and because he served in the Bush administration, but he has none of their preoccupation with democracy promotion. He is often wrong about things, and has gone so far as to lend rhetorical support to such atrocious groups as the MEK as part of his overall hostility towards Iran. It makes perfect sense that Bolton would like what he was hearing from Romney on foreign policy, because much of what Romney says is just an echo of the kinds of arguments Bolton regularly makes. It isn’t an accident that Romney’s foreign policy spokesman used to work as Bolton’s spokesman at the U.N. That said, anyone who thinks there is a significant difference between a Bolton-approved foreign policy and a neoconservative one is kidding himself.

Luce’s column reminded me of something I had forgotten:

Mr Romney’s Europe team is headed by Nile Gardiner, who helped Lady Thatcher write her memoirs and is now at the Heritage Foundation from where he denounces Mr Obama’s “humiliation” of Britain.

This is also a fitting combination, since Romney and Gardiner seem to share hostility to Europe. Beyond that, I’m not sure what Romney gains in terms of understanding and shaping U.S. policy towards Europe by having Gardiner as an adviser.

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Rubin’s Habit of Conflating Values and Interests and Ignoring Trade-Offs Between Them

Jennifer Rubin is confused about what U.S. national interests are:

In other words, human rights and defense of our ally Taiwan “complicate” our relationship with China. If only we could just push aside our national interests [bold mine-DL], things would go swimmingly with the Chinese rulers.

This is as good an example as any of the annoying neoconservative habit of conflating “values” and interests and ignoring the trade-offs between them. For instance, the U.S. could give Chen Guangcheng asylum. By itself, that might not adversely affect U.S.-Chinese relations. It might be the right thing to do in this case. Because the State Department has been raising the Chen case with the Chinese government for some time, giving him asylum might even suit Beijing under the circumstances:

For Beijing, the issue is sensitive because Chen enjoys broad sympathy among the Chinese public for persevering in his activism despite being blind and despite repeated reprisals from local officials. And though Beijing dislikes bargaining with Washington over human rights, allowing Chen to go abroad would remove an irritant in relations with Washington. It would also prevent him from becoming a bargaining chip in an already bumpy transition of power under way from President Hu Jintao’s administration to a younger group of leaders.

However, if this became part of a pattern, it could increase tensions, make it more difficult to reach agreements on anything else, and impose costs on U.S. interests. If that is what Rubin prefers, she should explain why she thinks U.S. foreign policy should prioritize something other than securing U.S. interests abroad rather than pretending that jeopardizing them is the same thing as securing them.

Here is what Rubin would have the U.S. do in this case:

We should be framing the Chen situation this way: If China wants to have positive relations with the United States, it must not retaliate against Chen, his family and other dissidents; doing so risks negative consequences for the Chinese.

If Chinese cooperation on various issues is already lacking, making such threats would probably ensure that such cooperation becomes even harder to obtain. It’s also likely that the Chinese government would assume that the U.S. is bluffing if it were to declare that the U.S. is willing to penalize China over this and other related cases. As Raymond Sontag pointed out in his article on the Magnitsky bill, China has been exempted from Jackson-Vanik restrictions for over a decade because U.S. economic interests in China outweigh all other concerns:

Congress lifted all Jackson-Vanik restrictions on trade with China before it joined the WTO in 2001 and did not find it necessary to replace them with other measures to ensure that Beijing observed human rights. Obviously, this was not because there were no concerns over how China treats its citizens, but because economic relations with China were simply too important to make them hostage to human rights concerns. The volume of U.S. trade with China is about 16 times larger than U.S. trade with Russia and China’s U.S. Treasury securities holdings are nearly ten times larger than Russia’s. When one weighs China’s and Russia’s human rights records against their relative importance to the U.S. economy, it is hard not to conclude that Congress is ready to push for human rights abroad only when no real interests are at stake.

Throughout her post, Rubin keeps claiming that U.S. interests are being “subordinated” or “sacrificed” in relations with Russia and China. This isn’t true, and her own descriptions of what has been happening confirm it:

So we praise Vladi­mir Putin after the stolen presidential election. The administration opposes sanctions denying visas to Russian human rights abuses. And Chen is a “problem” — for us.

Never mind that fraud in the Russian presidential election doesn’t make it “stolen” or that the State Department is already sanctioning Russian officials believed to be involved in the Magnitsky case. Notice what all of these things have in common? None of them is remotely connected to U.S. interests. All of them have to do with domestic regime behavior. The reality is that U.S. interests are being prioritized in these relationships, and this displeases ideologues and activists here in the U.S. What they would like to see is a policy that requires the U.S. to subordinate and sacrifice American interests for the sake of telling other governments how to behave inside their own countries. They are free to do so, but it is absurd for them to pretend that they are putting the American interest first. They aren’t, and they find policies that do to be deeply offensive.

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The Magnitsky Bill’s Flaws

Daragh McDowell argues against passage of the Magnitsky bill:

However, the utility of the Magnitsky bill in actually influencing Russian behavior is questionable, simply because Russia has long held that the internal affairs of sovereign states are not a legitimate concern of foreign policy. Indeed, attempting to influence Russian leaders to do something through punitive measures is a good way to get them not to do it [bold mine-DL]. Unfortunately, the political imperative to “do something” in the face of Russian human rights abuses has led many Western politicians to adopt coercive strategies that are doomed to failure.

McDowell goes beyond making the usual valid criticisms of trying to force a regime to change its behavior through outside pressure. He says that the horrible treatment Magnitsky and other regime critics suffered was an example of how the Russian leadership is losing control over its subordinates:

The greater likelihood is that these deaths, and others like them, are the result of the Kremlin losing effective control of elements within the Ministry of the Interior and other key sections of the government. This includes losing not only control over actions, but also the ability to punish those who step out of line. Putin’s hold on power depends on his ability to balance competing factions against one another. Comprehensive investigations into these crimes could throw the system out of equilibrium. Hence, a culture of impunity has developed within various factions, diluting the effectiveness of central control.

That suggests that the leadership is unable to make internal reforms that would satisfy supporters of the Magnitsky bill, which is another reason the legislation will be as ineffective as it will be harmful to U.S.-Russian relations. As Raymond Sontag wrote recently in The American Interest, the Magnitsky bill is typical of what is wrong with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy:

The Magnitsky Bill, however, is very unlikely to improve human rights in Russia, and it is also reflective of a broader problem affecting U.S. foreign policy: an impulse to engage in self-righteous posturing rather than in crafting serious strategy.

Sontag’s assessment confirms McDowell’s view that the Magnitsky case and others like are the product of systemic corruption in the Russian government, and corruption is so extensive that attempts to rein it in would create a significant internal power struggle:

Part of the reason for their hesitancy to tackle corruption earnestly is that they or people close to them benefit from it. There is evidence, for example, that top officials have been shielding the perpetrators in the Magnitsky case and allowing them to engage in theft of budget funds on a massive scale. The larger impediment to a real anticorruption campaign, though, is that corruption is so central to how law enforcement agencies work in Russia, and these agencies are so essential to how the Putin regime exercises power, that if the leadership did truly tackle the problem, it would find itself in a serious fight with a key constituency.

Passing the Magnitsky bill doesn’t make sense, unless it really is just an exercise in moral preening at the expense of improved U.S.-Russian relations.

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Judging Romney’s Weakness on Foreign Policy

James Joyner does his best to defend Romney against Biden’s foreign policy criticism this week:

But, of course, Romney is a veritable Henry Kissinger compared to the Barack Obama we elected in 2008. Hell, just running the 2002 Olympics gives him more foreign policy experience than Obama had coming in to the Oval Office.

I don’t think James really believes that successfully re-organizing a major international athletic competition is relevant to the conduct or understanding of foreign policy. It’s not a bad line as far as it goes, but it doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Romney can cite his experience from the Salt Lake City games as proof that he is a competent executive and manager in terms of turning around an operation’s ailing finances, but no one is going to accept that it gives him foreign policy experience. Claiming this is not that far removed from saying that a governor has experience in international affairs simply because his state borders a foreign country.

There’s no question that Obama’s foreign policy experience in 2007-08 was very minimal. A few years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a good working relationship with Dick Lugar were not terribly impressive qualifications. At any other time in recent history, Obama could not have won a major party’s presidential nomination or the general election with so few qualifications. Of course, one of the main reasons that he did win was that the Bush administration had thoroughly trashed the reputation of the GOP with the invasion of Iraq, and it destroyed the party’s reputation for foreign policy competence in the process. After the debacle of the Bush years, Republicans were in no position to be taken seriously on these issues. Obama was fortunate to have come from a part of the country and a part of Illinois where early opposition to the Iraq war was the politically safe position to take.

What Romney and his supporters can’t deny is that he has even less foreign policy experience than Obama did four years ago, which puts him at an even more significant disadvantage against Obama now. That might not matter if there were reason to believe that Romney had given a lot of serious thought to the positions he has taken, but there isn’t. We would all agree that the quality of a candidate’s arguments and the depth of understanding are more important than a certain number of years as a time-server in Congress. If Romney were not in the habit of saying preposterous things about U.S. policies or simply making things up in order to have something to criticize, he might be able to counter the inexperience charge with coherent objections to Obama’s actual mistakes. He has chosen to campaign differently.

The main obstacle for any challenger is to persuade the public that he is prepared and able to fulfill the responsibilities of the office he’s seeking. Romney has been badly failing that test up until now. Twelve years ago, Bush was more or less able to pass the test for three reasons: 1) the bar had effectively been lowered for him because he was surrounded by many veterans of his father’s administration, which reassured doubters that an uninformed and inexperienced governor would be in good hands; 2) Bush and his campaign did not go out of their way to make alarming or ridiculous statements on foreign policy; 3) the public was concerned almost entirely about domestic issues, so Bush’s inexperience wasn’t held against him as much as it normally would have (and in retrospect should have) been.

We now know that #1 was no guarantee of competence or good judgment, and Romney has already ignored #2 several times in just the last few months. We have tested the hypothesis that it didn’t matter that Bush didn’t know very much about the rest of the world, and I don’t think the electorate will be eager for a repeat. Let’s remember that it was Romney who decided as far back as 2009 when he published his book that foreign policy attacks would be a major part of his campaign. Domestic issues are probably more relevant now than they were in 2000, which is why it makes no sense for Romney to draw attention to his foreign policy agenda on a regular basis. He eagerly invited the skewering that we’re going to see over the next six months.

Obama was also fortunate to be competing in the general election in 2008 with a Republican nominee so consistently wrong on important international issues that Obama seemed preferable almost by default. Obama effectively neutralized the Clinton/McCain attack on his inexperience by pointing out (correctly) that many officials and politicians with decades of experience had endorsed the costliest foreign policy blunder in a generation. Lacking much experience, Obama argued that good judgment was the most important qualification. In fact, this is still what his campaign is arguing now. In addition to criticizing Romney for his inexperience, they are questioning his ability to make sound judgments on these issues, and Romney has so far given us no good reason to think this criticism is invalid. I doubt Romney will lose an election he would otherwise win because of his weakness on foreign policy, because the election will be decided by other factors, but there shouldn’t be any confusion that Romney is exceptionally weak on these issues for a Republican nominee.

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“This Is About Shia and Sunni!”: Romney’s Ignorant 2007 Statement on Jihadism Looks Even Worse Now Than It Did Then

I know David French is a zealous Romneyite, but this is too much:

Mitt’s 2007 response outlining the jihadist effort to collapse moderate governments and replace them with a caliphate seems considerably less alarmist [bold mine-DL] and considerably more prescient as Islamists rule Tunisia, the al-Qaeda flag flies in Tripoli, and the Muslim Brotherhood dominates Egypt.

French makes the exact same mistake Romney made in 2007 by indiscriminately lumping together violent jihadist groups with all other Islamist groups and conflating all Islamist groups of various stripes. French thinks that Romney’s fears of an international jihadist-established caliphate are now less alarmist because some Islamist parties are benefiting greatly from recent national elections. He seems to think that Romney’s error from five years ago is something to celebrate because Islamists have benefited from the fall of authoritarian rulers whose overthrow Romney supported in each instance.

Even if the falls of Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddafi vindicated what Romney said in 2007 (and they don’t), that would mean that Romney was effectively supporting the results of the “jihadist effort.” There is no way that French can spin this to Romney’s advantage. That 2007 quote is one of the earliest pieces of evidence that Romney had no idea what he was talking about on foreign policy then or later, and yet his defenders think that it helps him to remind everyone how wrong and uninformed he was (and probably still is) on this question.

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Leading Kosovo War Criminal Praises the Atrocities Prevention Board

Kosovo Prime Minister and former KLA leader Hashim Thaci has written a paean to the new Atrocities Prevention Board. This is both utterly hypocritical and disgraceful. Thaci is one of the men implicated in a 2010 report in human and drug trafficking and organ-harvesting during 1998 and 1999:

But it was the leaking of a Council of Europe (CoE) report just days after Kosovo’s first post-independence election on December 2010 that really put this criminality and corruption out in the open. On Dec. 12, human rights rapporteur Dick Marty submitted a report to the CoE containing serious accusations against the local leadership and international missions currently presiding over Kosovo.

The report alleged that the ICTY, United Nations, NATO, and individual Western governments had failed to thoroughly investigate serious war crimes committed by the members of a KLA unit known as the Drenica Group during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia. According to Marty’s report, the unit had violently seized and operated the lucrative trading routes across the Prokletije mountain range on the Kosovo-Albania border. He alleges the group amassed considerable fortunes supplying weaponry to local forces — and trafficked in human beings, heroin, and organs taken from Serb and Albanian prisoners of war.

Marty’s report identified the leader of Drenica Group as a man called “The Snake” — a.k.a. Hashim Thaqi, who two days earlier had been named prime minister re-elect of the Republic of Kosovo. He has officially taken office in time for Kosovo’s third Independence Day celebrations.

The Atrocities Prevention Board may be mostly useless, or it may provide the means for increased military interventionism in the future, but it’s absurd to take seriously arguments for it from a war criminal. Indeed, the empowerment of Thaci and his associates since 1999 is a sobering reminder of what can result from “humanitarian” military interventions carried out in the name of halting atrocities.

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The Public Doesn’t Share Romney’s Cold War Mentality on Russia

Doug Mataconis reads too much into the recent verbal slips of Romney and his advisers:

So, no I don’t think that the Romney campaign is dumb enough to think the USSR still exists. I also don’t think, however, that this is just a simple slip of the tongue. They’re sending a message here, and it’s mostly to the GOP base.

This gives the Romney campaign too much credit for political calculation. I don’t think anyone in the campaign was trying to “send a message” by referring to the Czech Republic as Czechoslovakia or calling the Russians Soviets. The first mistake doesn’t send any message at all. The Romney adviser who said this, Pierre Prosper, mentioned Czechoslovakia in the context of using the usual talking point about the cancellation of missile defense installations that most Czechs and Poles never wanted. There is nothing subtle about this. It’s the same thing we’ve heard from the campaign for years. If they were intentional, these statements were particularly poorly-timed, since they came on the same day as Biden’s criticism that Romney was trapped in a Cold War mindset. Indeed, they blunders would not have been made if the Romney campaign hadn’t tried to issue a “prebuttal” of Biden’s attack.

None of these little slips matters. The criticism of Romney’s “Cold War mindset” is valid because he deliberately chose to describe Russia as an enemy in terms that haven’t made sense since the Soviet era. Instead of backing away from the absurd description of Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe,” Romney and his advisers have reaffirmed it. It’s certainly true that some Republicans are wedded to the idea of Russia as a neo-Soviet menace. We heard this nonsense a lot back in 2008 during and after the war in Georgia, and Romney has occasionally expressed the view that he thinks Putin is intent on “rebuilding the Russian Empire,” which is a slightly different description of the same misguided view of Russian ambitions and post-Soviet political realities.

I suspect most Americans and most Republicans simply aren’t very receptive to fear-mongering about Russia. For one thing, 60% of Americans were under the age of 44 according to the 2010 census, and more than half of them are too young to have been alive during the Cold War. Those of us born in 1979 and later can vaguely remember the final years of the Cold War, but we have lived most of our lives during the decades since the dissolution of the USSR. As Scott Clement found earlier this year, Americans simply don’t worry about Russia anymore:

Today, there’s virtually no consensus any more that Russia is the bad guy. This year, for instance, a scant 2 percent picked Russia as America’s arch-nemesis. Yes, there’s a resistance against being too trustful — fewer than one in five have called Russia an “ally” at any point in time — but calling Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe” makes Romney seem anachronistic, if not stuck in the Cold War.

The accompanying graph Clement used showed a significant difference between age groups in their attitudes towards Russia, but even a majority of older Americans does not perceive Russia as unfriendly or as an enemy:

Gallup finds that more Americans viewed Russia favorably than not earlier this year, and this has been true for every year during the past decade except 2003 and 2009. Bad feeling about the wars in Iraq and Georgia took their toll, but a favorable American view of Russia keeps coming back after each downturn. It makes some sense politically for Romney to be hawkish on Iran, which is exceptionally unpopular in the U.S., but there is no obvious political advantage in playing the Russophobe. It goes against Romney’s normal instinct to cater and pander to the electorate, and it suggests that even Romney’s ability to tell people what they want to hear is being overwhelmed by the influence of his hawkish foreign policy team.

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