— Romney would be a new president in 2013, which could plausibly be the year for a preventive attack. He will be inexperienced, and his national security team will be new and potentially inexperienced as well. The learning curve on Iran is steep, and the Iranian regime knows it. The Obama team is deeply knowledgeable, appropriately cynical about Iranian intentions, and has had the time and confidence to make course corrections.
— Romney, by all accounts, is uninterested in inheriting the mantle of President George W. Bush, who invaded two Muslim countries and lost popularity and credibility as a result. Romney, despite his rhetoric, is more of a pragmatist than Bush, and far more cautious [bold mine-DL]. An attack on Iran is an incautious act, one that even Bush rejected.
— The unilateral use of force in the Middle East for a liberal Democrat like Obama is a credential; for a conservative Republican like Romney, it could be an albatross.
One recurring theme that I keep coming across in commentary on Romney’s foreign policy views is that he is a “pragmatist” and therefore unlikely to order military action. Peter Foster at The Daily Telegraph engaged in some similar mind-reading earlier this week:
He’s a data-drive politician who privately knows the limits of US hard power and, in a time of recession, the public will-power to sustain further conflict
This is not at all reassuring. The word pragmatist can be used to cover a myriad of sins, so by itself it tells us nothing. If pragmatist is supposed to be opposed to hawk as a description, I’m not sure where people have come up with this idea that Romney is a pragmatist on foreign policy. How would we know that? This is the one area of policy that he has never had to address before he started his first presidential campaign, and since he has been a candidate he has been consistently, embarrassingly hawkish. It is a huge mistake to reach conclusions about a candidate’s likely foreign policy based on his domestic political or business career. If Romney is “data-driven” and receives bad intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, he could very well make a very poor decision for war with Iran because of his background as a “data-driven” manager.
There is no evidence that Romney “privately knows the limits of U.S. hard power.” Maybe he should be aware of this, but we have no reason to believe that he is. He is the candidate proposing a significantly larger military budget, and he is the one insisting that the U.S. threat of force against Iran must be credible. He has already boxed himself in by declaring that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon if he is elected.
The only evidence we have for Romney’s likely foreign policy is what he has said he will do and the views of the people he has named as his advisers. If we discount that, we are just making things up out of thin air. Romney is inexperienced, which makes him vulnerable to following the lead of hawkish advisers. If he has shown every sign of deferring to the so-called “Cheneyites” up to this point, why is he going to stop following their advice once he is in office? It may be that Romney isn’t interested in imitating Bush’s ground wars (though, again, we have no proof on this point one way or the other), but his hawkish advisers would likely tell him that launching military strikes on Iran is different from those wars and therefore won’t have as many harmful consequences for the U.S. Iran hawks consistently underestimate the risks and costs of war with Iran and overstate the benefits. If Romney performs a cost-benefit analysis using the bad information these advisers give him, he might conclude that a disastrous, unnecessary war with Iran is an acceptable risk. None of this means that Romney definitely will start a war with Iran, but it does mean that he is more likely to do so than Obama.