Aaron David Miller doesn’t think Romney’s foreign policy will be a return to Bushism:
“Romney will inherit the same cruel and unforgiving world that Obama is dealing with,” Miller said. “He will have to deal with a broken Congress and the changing nature of the world, which is less amenable to the projection of U.S. economic and military power. He can protest otherwise in the campaign, but he would be just as risk-averse as Obama, or even more so.”
Miller lays that all to campaign rhetoric and predicts it is not a prelude to a Bush-like foreign policy.
“Barring an extraordinary event like Sept. 11, Romney will be much more moderate, much less reckless than George W. Bush,” Miller said. “Most presidents govern from the center. Bush was an aberration because the circumstances were aberrant.”
Miller is being absurdly optimistic here. Considering how many bad policies have received bipartisan backing in the last decade, it isn’t very reassuring to think that Romney would govern from “the center.” There appears to be no shortage of “centrists” willing to use force against Syria and Iran. “Centrism” is no guarantee against recklessness and folly. It must also be comforting to pretend that Republican hawkish interventionists are far removed from “the center” politically, when they are often the ones dictating the terms of debate to “the center.”
Would Romney be similarly constrained by circumstances and limited resources? Yes. Do we have every reason to believe that he would pursue policies overseas that increase the risk of squandering those limited resources in unnecessary conflicts? Yes. Some people assume that ideologues will not have much influence on someone so famously unprincipled as Romney, but this gets things backwards. It is someone with no firm principles and no serious grounding in international affairs who is most vulnerable to embracing his advisers’ simple, ideological answers to complex international problems.
If Congress is “broken” when it comes to many domestic issues, bipartisanship is still alive and well when it comes to pursuing misguided and counterproductive policies abroad. The more paralyzed the government is on fiscal matters, the more tempting it will be for Romney to focus his attention on international issues. In addition to having more freedom of action in foreign policy, Romney would unfortunately face fewer domestic political risks from ordering military interventions than he would in pursuing entitlement reform.
When thinking about Bush’s recklessness, we should remember that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq before 9/11, and the administration was full of people who wanted to overthrow Hussein. 9/11 created the political atmosphere that made it easier to build support for the invasion, but we shouldn’t assume that Bush’s foreign policy would have been much less reckless had the attacks not happened. The “Bush was an aberration” idea is one that a lot of people would like to believe. It creates the impression that Bush’s foreign policy decisions did not have significant bipartisan support for the first four or five years, and treating Bush’s foreign policy as an unusual overreaction to the 9/11 attacks helps to divert attention from the fact that “centrists” share many of the same assumptions and goals as the people who were making policy during the Bush years.
Romney’s way of dealing with the “changing nature of the world” so far has been to deny that the world is really changing and to emphasize the importance of American exceptionalism-as-hegemonism. So far he gives us every reason to think that he will conduct foreign policy in an even more reckless and provocative way than Bush did. Romney is famous for wanting to consult with “experts,” and so far on foreign policy issues the “experts” he has chosen to consult and include on his campaign are advising him to pursue confrontational and dangerous policies.
Update: A similar JTA story quotes Miller saying the same thing he told the AP:
“He’s articulating policies he wouldn’t follow,” Miller said, noting the preponderance of centrist Republicans among Romney’s foreign policy advisers.
The “preponderance of centrist Republicans” among his advisers isn’t reassuring at all. Romney is articulating policies that his advisers have been able to get him to adopt.