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Mitt Romney, Commander of the Fake Internationalists

No surprise: Senator Mitt Romney does not like President Donald Trump, as he recently explained in The Washington Post. But what, one wonders, was the former GOP presidential candidate thinking two years ago when he supped with the man he now claims to deplore while seeking an appointment as secretary of state?

Much of Romney’s complaint is over manners. Yes, the president is a boor. Most people, including many of Trump’s supporters, recognize that. Trump won not because of his etiquette but because of what he stood for—and against.

Romney also defended The Blob, Washington’s bipartisan foreign policy establishment. In his article attacking the president, he offered the usual vacuous bromides that characterize the interventionist consensus, which poses as internationalism but with plenty of bombing raids, illegal occupations, and nation-building. Most importantly, this perspective presumes permanent American domination, irrespective of cost.

Romney wrote: “America has long been looked to for leadership. Our economic and military strength was part of that, of course, but our enduring commitment to principled conduct in foreign relations, and to the rights of all people to freedom and equal justice, was even more esteemed.” Indeed, “The world needs American leadership, and it is in America’s interest to provide it. A world led by authoritarian regimes is a world—and an America—with less prosperity, less freedom, less peace.”


In fact, Romney appears more committed to dependence on allies than American leadership. For him, these are two sides of the same coin. The only alternative he sees to Washington in control is the bad guys leading.

Related is Romney’s apparent belief that foreign policy is fixed, irrespective of circumstance: the very same U.S.-dominated alliances created in 1950 are needed today. Although America’s friends have raced ahead economically, politically, even militarily, Washington must forever treat them as helpless derelicts. For instance, Russia, a weakened declining power, faces the U.S. and Europe—which together have more than 20 times its GDP. Yet Romney sees Moscow as the greatest threat facing America. It is 1945 all over again.

Romney’s most important omission is Iraq. After the war there turned bad, he remained silent about his support for it. The Iraq disaster is an important reason why Trump won and other Republicans, including Romney, lost. In 2008, Americans rejected John McCain, the very symbol of promiscuous war-making. Four years later, Romney criticized President Barack Obama for leaving Iraq too soon, by which the Republican nominee probably meant leaving at any time. In saying he would keep more troops in Iraq, he ignored the fact that the Iraqis had refused to negotiate a status of forces agreement with the Bush administration.

Romney also failed to mention Afghanistan, both as a presidential candidate in 2012 and senator in 2019. After all, what good can be said for entering the 18th year of nation-building in a region of little strategic interest? As for Syria, last November, Romney predictably denounced as “recklessness in the extreme” exiting a multi-sided civil war in a country never important to America.

Now Romney is being touted as the new standard-bearer for the bipartisan War Party, filling in for John McCain. Bloomberg columnist Hal Brands theorized that Romney was attempting to “position himself as heir to John McCain as the congressional conscience of U.S. diplomacy” (defined as advocating policies designed to prolifically kill and destroy).

Towards this effort, Romney is articulating “a renewed Republican internationalism based on opposition to aggressive authoritarian regimes.” Brands celebrates Romney’s Russophobia, saying he “deserves credit for being anti-Russia before being anti-Russia was cool.” No hint that the U.S. might have contributed to Moscow’s hostility through the aggressive “internationalism” of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—violating commitments not to expand NATO, dismantling Moscow’s Slavic friend Serbia, and encouraging violent regime change against an elected government that neighbored Russia. After all, equivalent Russian intervention in Mexico would have triggered an extremely hostile reaction in Washington.

Neoconservative Max Boot lauded Romney for throwing “down the gauntlet to President Trump.” Indeed, argued Boot, “it now falls upon Romney to champion the cause of principled conservatism in Washington.” Boot hoped the freshman senator would lead a general opposition and seemed especially pleased at Romney’s support for the interventionist status quo.

Yet the passion-less Romney is a poor substitute for the perennially angry McCain. It is difficult to imagine Romney leading Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman on another apocalyptic ride, demanding that death and destruction be visited upon an enemy du jour. Indeed, Romney admitted as much, complained The New York Times, which noted that he said he “would only speak out against Mr. Trump on issues of ‘great significance,’ which means not much.”

Worse, Romney is a typical denizen of Washington and lacks any connection to the disastrous consequences of his policies. Give McCain credit: he and his sons served in the military. Not Romney. He received four deferments during the Vietnam War, explaining that he “had other plans.” This sounds eerily like Dick Cheney, who said his five deferments reflected “other priorities.”

Moreover, none of Romney’s five sons served. That is, of course, their prerogative. But their decision further insulated Romney from any consequences of his policies. His response to questions about their lack of service: “One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I’d be a great president.” Did Romney believe working for him was as dangerous as fighting Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah? Or that his personal interest in winning the election was as important as the nation winning a war?

My friend William Smith at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at Catholic University argued that Romney’s article “is another clear sign that the bipartisan political establishment is largely oblivious to the terrible tragedy of wartime casualties disproportionately inflicted on certain communities.” Candidate Trump did particularly well in states that so suffered. Complained Smith: “What is astonishing is that, after all this tragedy, Romney offers only cliched neoconservative bromides to the many heartbroken communities across the nation.”

However, The Blob, which dominates foreign policy under both parties, poses an even larger problem. These policymakers consider permanent war to be America’s natural condition. They seek to suppress dissident views to ensure united support for permanent war. Anyone who hesitates to back every proposed new intervention is demonized and marginalized.

The favorite technique, recently employed by Frederick Kagan in The Hill, is to call opponents, irrespective of their actual positions, “isolationists.” Thus did Kagan urge left and right “internationalists”—meaning military interventionists—to work together to defend “the principle that the United States must remain actively engaged in the world,” by which he meant warring without end on multiple countries.

Exclaimed Kagan: “The isolationists who have condemned the United States involvement in the Middle East and the rest of the world for decades are about to get their wish. We will witness what the world looks like when left to its own devices.”

Egads. Imagine what might have happened had the U.S. not intervened in the Lebanese Civil War, armed Turkey to kill tens of thousands of Kurds and destroy thousands of Kurdish villages, invaded Iraq and triggered sectarian conflict, fostered civil war in Libya and the chaos that followed, supported decades of violent occupation over millions of Palestinians by Israel, backed murderous Saudi Arabia in Bahrain and Yemen, supported a coup against Iran’s democratically elected government and a brutal invasion backed by chemical weapons against Iran’s Islamist regime, actively underwritten tyranny across the Middle East, and tried to sort out the Syrian Civil War. Something bad might have happened.


In Syria, Kagan views as “isolationist” the withdrawal of an illegal military deployment that risks violent confrontation with Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Russia over minor stakes. In contrast, “internationalism” means war everywhere all the time, especially in a country like Syria.

Trump, complained Kagan, is leaving “Afghanistan for no clear reason whatsoever.” No reason other than Washington long ago having achieved its objective of degrading and displacing al-Qaeda and punishing the Taliban for hosting al-Qaeda. And eventually having recognized, after more than 17 years passed, trillions of dollars were spent, and thousands of lives were lost, that using force to create a liberal democracy in Central Asia is a fool’s errand. Why leave, indeed?

It has oft been recognized that Donald Trump is a flawed vehicle to achieve almost any foreign policy end. However, he still possesses far more common sense than Mitt Romney. It is time to rescue “internationalism” from those who love humanity so much that they would destroy the world in order to save it.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Mitt Romney, Commander of the Fake Internationalists"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 9, 2019 @ 11:01 pm

“No reason other than Washington long ago having achieved its objective of degrading and displacing al-Qaeda and punishing the Taliban for hosting al-Qaeda.”

One should avoid the back pedal here. the Taliban did not host Al Quaeda in the manner your reference suggests.

#2 Comment By John_M On January 9, 2019 @ 11:06 pm

I truly voted against Romney when he ran for president because of his omnidirectional belligerence. I also didn’t like his vulture capitalism style (and I did technical due diligence for venture capital activities as a side line).

I don’t see that he has gotten any wiser.

#3 Comment By Own Goal On January 10, 2019 @ 2:22 am

Romney just guaranteed that he won’t get the nomination. Amazing, really, stupid and gratuitous.

He could at the least have shown a little “growth” in the direction of populist disgust with the wasteful, reckless, failed wars, not to mention concerns about the growth of government and corporate mass surveillance of the public, and the continuing unholy collaboration between Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Washington in ripping off taxpayers and importing cheap labor to take American jobs.

Not Mitt. He seems to think he’s running for president of our utterly discredited, pseudo-meritocratic “Establishment”.

#4 Comment By steve mckinney On January 10, 2019 @ 2:48 am

Let’s all thank the knuckle-headed Utahns for delivering another unimaginative empty suit to the Nation’s State House. Sure, Trump is often a boor, and unmistakably human, but give me a man-child with conviction and Devil-may-care determination over a dapper dolt whose ideas are contrived platitudes and whose passion is a Macbeth-like obsession with stature and power any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Well written Mr. Bandow! Keep fighting the good fight.

#5 Comment By polistra On January 10, 2019 @ 4:10 am

I get the sense that the “isolationist” line doesn’t work any more. It was a commonly used rhetorical weapon 10 years ago, and it effectively silenced opposition. Now it’s not used much, and it seems to be ignored or derided when it is used. Most Americans understand now that maintaining and expanding an empire is destroying us.

#6 Comment By Aunt Lila On January 10, 2019 @ 7:44 am

You really don’t get Romney, do you. Who are you to decided what anyone sees or feels. Do you think you could use the word seems like a professional journalist. I don’t construe
Romney that way. You SEEM to put words in his mouth and thought in his head. Please be professional.

#7 Comment By Dan Green On January 10, 2019 @ 8:12 am

My take is Mitt see’s himself as a Gerald Ford calming effect, for this 4 year disruption, the Swamp battles with. The Deep state needs an impeachment win and soon. With that said it will be ever difficult for the Beltway to change Americans perception , they don’t trust the government.

#8 Comment By Kolya Krassotkin On January 10, 2019 @ 10:23 am

For someone so smart Romney should realize that Americans will reject him (again), when he takes up the mantle of McCain (again) as quickly as they did the last time. But that he fails to realize that substance trumps form, which is why 67 million Americans voted for the President, demonstrates what a shallow narcisst and sociopath he is. I mean, it’s okay to rob your neighbor so long as you say “please” and “thank you,” isn’t it?

#9 Comment By Stephen J. On January 10, 2019 @ 11:31 am

The writer states: “Now Romney is being touted as the new standard-bearer for the bipartisan War Party, filling in for John McCain.”

I believe The “War Party” are:
“The Maniacs of Militarism”

The maniacs of militarism are creating wars
Countries are bombed by warmongering whores
Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other countries too
Are hell holes of the earth, “The work,” of this insane crew

Enabled by politicians in positions of power
These well dressed war criminals hide and cower
The generals salute their political masters
Then the brainwashed obey these bemedaled disasters

Cities are destroyed and reduced to rubble
Where are the perpetrators that created all this trouble?
They are residing in luxury and given fancy titles
War crimes trials are needed, and are so vital

But this is not happening: the system is corrupted
And these evil beings, by some are worshiped
Blood-soaked villains that never do the fighting
They are the “experts” that do the inciting

They are the producers of death and destruction
Others are profiteers of all the bloody actions
Missiles, bombs and horrendous weapons
There is no end to the endless aggression

Millions are dead, and millions are homeless
Millions are refugees, and all this is atrocious
Once they had jobs, families, and homes as well
Then their countries were bombed by the agents from hell

Setting the world on fire is what these war arsonists do
The money for their depredations comes from me and you
They have made us all accessories to their criminal acts
Our Taxes are the blood money and that is a fact

Will the people ever say: “We have had enough”?
And put all these villains in secure handcuffs
Then lock them up in maximum security prisons
Then, we can say “goodbye” to the maniacs of militarism…
[more info at link below]
“More War…”

More war is needed to keep armies trained and employed
More wars are needed so that countries can be destroyed
More killing, bombing, destruction and death
More of this is needed until the victims have nothing left…
[read more at link below]


#10 Comment By prodigalson On January 10, 2019 @ 1:21 pm

Romney is such an empty suit i’m not sure if he isn’t weakening his position just by virtue that, he Romney, supports it.

Does this guy inspire anyone to any emotion other than revulsion? Along with Hillary, they both strike me both as elites who want to become president, not from any actual passions or desires, but because they’ve run out of other things to add to their C.V.

The only thing I can say with certainty that Mitt Romney believes in, is Mitt Romney. So I’m intensely skeptical that ANYONE in America, aside from the most firebrand resistance types, are going to take anything coming out of this corporate drone’s mouth with any seriousness. And even for the resistance types the support would equally follow a labrador retriever, just so long as it opposed Trump, so Mitt doesn’t even have that thin thread of loyatly going for him.

I guess that leaves him with the neocons as BFFs. They’re welcome to each other.

#11 Comment By One Guy On January 10, 2019 @ 1:32 pm

Why are we ragging on Romney? Is it because he had the audacity to criticize Trump? Shouldn’t we wait until he actually does something bad before ragging on him? Has he lied 6,000 times in the last few years, for example? Did he refuse to rake the forests?

#12 Comment By Mike Clements On January 10, 2019 @ 2:54 pm

Such trashing of Romney becomes a real challenge for me.

I can’t decide if it’s the fevered imaginings or the straw man arguments that disappoint me the most.

#13 Comment By Tim On January 10, 2019 @ 3:34 pm

I think Romney is simply miffed that the boorish Trump became president and he did not and sadly, he may be running for president again. I think someone used the word revulsion about Romney. I approve. It’s ironic the boorish Trump isn’t nearly as revolting as the urbane Mitt.

#14 Comment By Jeeves On January 10, 2019 @ 4:09 pm

@Mike Clements
For me it’s the straw man arguments that are most egregious. As an Arizonan, I knew John McCain, and Romney is no McCain (whose like we will never see again, if we’re lucky).

Just to single out one objection to Mr. Bandow’s argument: Romney didn’t refer to the SOFA, which supposedly required Obama to abandon Iraq, for the very good reason that Leon Panetta, who should know, has said that Obama, with plenty of time to do it, made no effort whatsoever to re-negotiate the SOFA 2011 deadline. Panetta regrets this and so do I.

#15 Comment By fabian On January 10, 2019 @ 4:34 pm

Romney is the epitome of the decay of the USA. Further, he shows the complete inability of the Republican party to choose the correct casting. After Bush and Iraq they propose McPain. After the Great Financial Crisis they propose Mittens. It’s akin to cast Dany de Vito to play Casanova. When Trump is gone, this party is finished.

#16 Comment By Kolya Krassotkin On January 10, 2019 @ 5:06 pm

I approve. It’s ironic the boorish Trump isn’t nearly as revolting as the urbane Mitt.

That Americans are revolted more by Romney than by Trump, in fact, speaks well for them. All morally mature folk should be repelled more by a polite, urbane, well-scrubbed pirate, who made his fortune destroying people’s lives and wealth than by a loud-talking, crude womanizer, who creates wealth and, in fact, shows his concern for the people below him more than the polite, charming, well-bred pirate.

#17 Comment By Bacon On January 10, 2019 @ 10:11 pm

As I understand it, Romney’s saying we need more Middle East wars, more Wall Street bailouts, and more immigrants.

I think we already knew that Romney wants those things. It’s why we don’t want Romney.

Also, it’s its unnecessary to counter Kagan’s arguments. He’s not taken seriously any more. Too many bad and wrong judgments about important things.

#18 Comment By rta On January 11, 2019 @ 10:09 am

@Jeeves, Obama would have stayed in Iraq if the Iraqi’s had allowed us to continue to kill with impunity. Thankfully, they said no. And why on earth would you regret us not negotiating a new SOFA?

#19 Comment By kswc On January 11, 2019 @ 11:24 am

Mitt Romney is the Republican’s answer to the Democrat’s John Kerry.

#20 Comment By WorkingClass On January 11, 2019 @ 5:06 pm

If Utah has a problem with Trump they could have elected a Democrat.

Romney is obsolete. Never Trump Republicans are sinking in a tar pit. Romney cannot be nominated much less elected even if Trump does not run. He can help with the impeachment of Trump if it comes to that. But again, a Democrat would be more useful.

#21 Comment By Oleg Gark On January 13, 2019 @ 6:55 pm

To what extent are the migrant crises in Europe and the US caused by American internationalism? Between the endless wars of the neoconservatives and the endless austerity of the neoliberals, is it any wonder there are so many refugees? Maybe if America disengaged a bit, the situation would improve.

#22 Comment By georgina davenport On January 14, 2019 @ 2:41 pm

I do not believe in America’s permanent domination of the world — it is morally wrong and it is impractical and in the long run, hurts us more than it helps us.

However, despite his withdrawal of troops from Syria, Trump is not pulling us away from a foreign policy of domination because he is at the same time drumming the war drums to Iran. Moreover, he also wants to increase and enlarge our military and is relying more than ever a bullish posture internationally as a way to get what he wants, a bullish posture that is possible because of our huge military and large economy. He is in fact asserting domination of the bullish type, the type he signaled by dropping our largest non-nuclear bomb on Syria early in his presidency.

Let’s also not confuse leadership with domination. While being a bully, he has abdicated all of America leadership in the world stage in all aspects– human rights, women rights, environment preservation, trade, technological advancement, opening of new economic markets, etc. He unwisely gutted our soft power of diplomacy by gutting our State Department. Leadership by diplomacy is by far more cost effective, fundamentally transforming and satisfying, and ultimately life-saving than domination with brute military might. Of all people, Trump is the last person to understand this.

But unfortunately our politics and all its stakeholders are generally incapable of nuanced thinking. Tribal politics drown out all other view points. While our military and economic power give us leverage, this leverage should be yielded wisely and strategically by by our diplomats, and thus put us in recognized leadership position without needing to dominate anybody.

As a country founded on pursuit of individual liberty and happiness, and as the country with the largest military and economy, we need to be a moral leader in democracy, human rights, fair trade, wise technological advancement, and so much, if not for others but for ourselves. Do we want to let China, an autocratic country take the lead?