It’s hard to imagine a politician more schizophrenic than Mitt Romney. As Massachusetts governor, Romney was pro-choice, supported amnesty for illegal aliens and was gay friendly. As a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Romney became pro-life, opposed amnesty and gay marriage. In his new book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,” Romney says hardly anything about abortion, illegal aliens or social issues, but plenty about how government must grow and do more, with his biggest beef with President Obama being where it should grow and what it should do. Critics might be inclined to compare Romney’s big government philosophy to that of the last Republican president but Romney’s is actually worse–particularly on the issue that has most defined Bush’s legacy.
Whereas President Bush ran for president in 2000 opposing Bill Clinton’s nation building overseas (something Bush would not live up to), Romney begins his book and presumably his 2012 presidential campaign, by making crystal clear that his concept of “American greatness” is inextricably tied to more war, more nation building and an even more ambitious foreign policy. Romney not only firmly believes the US should be the world’s policeman, but continuously frames practical foreign policy questions in moralistic, religious-like language. Claims brother Romney: “there can be no rational denial of the reality that America is decidedly a good nation. Therefore it is good for America to be strong… freedom for our grandchildren and for people everywhere can be guaranteed only by America-a strong America.” Looking back on the 20th century, Romney explains: “we found that our vital interests could not be secure in the face of threats to the cause of freedom elsewhere… America took on the task of anticipating, containing and eventually defeating threats to the progress of freedom in the belief that actively protecting others was the best way to protect ourselves.”
For Romney, foreign policy is not simply a question of the national interest or even practical defense, but securing freedom for “people everywhere,” and “American greatness” means recognizing that the national interest and global interests are, and always have been, indistinguishable. While Bush said of America’s dealings with other nations in 2000, “If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us… If we’re a humble nation but strong, they’ll welcome us,” Romney explicitly rejects that America has been or ever could be “arrogant” and Bush’s notion of a humble nation directly contradicts exactly what Mitt believes makes America great-benevolent hubris.
Whereas George Washington warned against “foreign entanglements” and John Quincy Adams advised that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” Romney wants endless entanglements and sees monsters to destroy everywhere. In addition to championing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Romney considers Iran, China, North Korea and Russia grave “threats” and also believes it is the US’s moral obligation to admit Georgia into NATO, which would have conceivably put American boots on the ground in that country in 2008. During that border battle between Georgia and Russia, a campaigning John McCain immediately injected the US into the mix, proclaiming that Americans were “all Georgians now.” No doubt, Romney shared McCain’s sentiment, though what concrete interests the US might have in that conflict are vague or speculative at best. Still, Romney forebodes: “We are engaged in two hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and facing growing threats in almost every region of the world. Weakness invites challenges, acts of intimidation, acts of aggression, and sometimes war.” For Romney, “sometimes” is all the time.
Romney writes of President Obama “His effort to expand the size, reach and role of government is without precedent in our history,” and yet the former Massachusetts governor-who also still defends TARP but complains it’s just being handled wrong–actively promotes a foreign policy, the size, reach and role of which is also without precedent in our history. Writes The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison: “A huge standing army, military outposts scattered around the globe, perpetual war and the arbitrary use of force by executive order-are these really compatible with the national character (?)… The security and warfare state is no less and actually far more alien to these shores than any entitlement program. It is far more dangerous to the constitutional government that truly was one of the most admirable achievements of our ancestors, and it goes against the grain of most of our national history.”
In 2000, Bush campaigned on a foreign policy closer to that of America’s first president, but went on to do the exact opposite. With his book, Romney has kicked off an early 2012 presidential campaign abandoning the limited government vision of the Founders from the start, while making the case that imperial hubris is the very definition of “American Greatness.”
If the big government case for perpetual war and protracted empire Romney makes in his book counts as “conservatism” in 2010, then limited government advocates will need to find a new term. And if Mitt Romney becomes the Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2012, conservatives will need to find a new party.