Is Romney “Too Smart” to Believe What He Says on Foreign Policy?
Reid Smith has a good post on the negligible role of foreign policy in the election. He ends by commenting on Romney’s campaign rhetoric:
My hope is he’s just talking the hawk, because he’s too smart to be serious on those fronts.
I understand what Smith means, but this seems to give Romney both too much and too little credit. It gives him too much because it says that Romney can’t possibly be serious in his foreign policy statements because no one as smart as Romney could seriously believe what he’s saying. It gives him too little because it implies that he can’t actually be all that smart if his foreign policy is as bad and uninformed as it seems to be. Many people seem to want to believe that Romney’s foreign policy statements don’t reflect the foreign policy he would conduct once in office. They could be right, but we have no evidence to support this belief. Absent any evidence, there is always an appeal to Romney’s intelligence, as if smart people never support misguided and aggressive policies. It’s nice to think that it works this way, but it doesn’t.
It doesn’t seem possible that intelligent people can seriously hold or defend some of the positions he has taken, but intelligence has nothing to do with it. It would be encouraging to think that the government wouldn’t make grave mistakes if it were staffed by sufficiently intelligent people, but sometimes the government pursues disastrous, unrealistic policies because some reasonably intelligent people believe that they have found a “solution” to a major problem, but the “solution” is poorly-designed or ill-conceived. The point here isn’t that intelligence is unimportant, but that having intelligent people at the helm doesn’t prevent major policy blunders and may sometimes lead to policies that are excessively ambitious and doomed to fail.
As much as I criticize its record, the Bush administration didn’t lack for smart people. Even Bush did not make the foreign policy mistakes he did because of a lack of intelligence as such, but because he didn’t know as much as he needed to do his job well and because he accepted certain extremely flawed and ideological assumptions about the world and the ability of the U.S. to shape other parts of the world. Intelligence doesn’t guarantee wisdom or prudence, so I wouldn’t assume that someone as smart as Romney is supposed to be doesn’t seriously hold the foreign policy views he has publicly stated. If Romney has no foreign policy experience and hasn’t given much thought to these issues, he could be very smart and still be very ignorant. The deeper problem here is that many Republican foreign policy professionals seem to be willing to tolerate and even reinforce that ignorance.