So Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made a little splash with some of the jingoes when he refused to have the state provide any security escort for Khatami during his visit. Now we are supposed to think that he is a Serious Candidate for President, because he managed to grandstand about the visit of a former Iranian president to Harvard. Well, okay, if that’s what convinces people that someone ought to be taken seriously, then he is very serious.
But here’s something about the grandstanding (which is what it was) that I don’t understand: if Jiang Zemin or Mikhail Gorbachev, two former leaders of communist states not all together human rights-friendly, came over for a visit to the United States, for whatever reason, it seems unlikely that any governor would make any fuss over refusing to provide either of them with a security escort. In fact, I suspect that the State Department and the White House would be positively mortified at a governor taking a position on the visit of a former foreign head of state, much less taking action to protest the visit. Of course, it helps that our relations with Iran are so bad or nonexistent that it becomes irrelevant whether or not any governor made a protest like this.
Romney did this because there was no downside, except perhaps for some grumbling at Harvard, since hardly anyone here would consider it objectionable–because it is irrelevant–and it would have no adverse effect on U.S.-Iranian relations. It was a completely risk-free pose to take, and it has the added advantage of impressing the warmongers and Persophobes in the GOP by showing his “resolve” against “Islamofascism” and so on. But it didn’t take any resolve to do this, simply some easy political calculation and a cost-free decision. Perhaps I am jaded about governors grandstanding about U.S. foreign policy, which is not, properly speaking, really their concern, since New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson, continues to fancy himself the nation’s resident North Korea expert because of his grandstanding as Congressman when he went to North Korea to negotiate for the release of an American prisoner. He seemed to spend more time jaunting around the world playing at being a diplomat than he did serving as a Congressman, but at least arguably he had some legitimate role as a Congressman to take an interest in foreign affairs. When state and municipal officials decide that they’re going to take a stand on a foreign policy question, whatever it is, it is really the cheapest, easiest form of pandering, as it normally costs them nothing and probably works to win some domestic approval. Normally I thought pandering was the sort of thing most people didn’t want from their politicians. But I guess if you pander to Persophobia, that is admirable.