Home/Daniel Larison/The Candidate of “Omni-Directional Belligerence”

The Candidate of “Omni-Directional Belligerence”

It’s no surprise that I second Dan McCarthy’s assessment of Romney’s VMI speech. Dan writes:

Nothing in this speech appeals to a war-weary and economically troubled people. It’s politically damaging. But he gave this speech anyway, and the only reasonable explanation is either that Mitt really believes — zealously — what he says, or else he’s entirely compliant to the ideological demands of right-wing Wilsonians. I suspect the latter is the case, and that portends a Romney presidency that would repeat all the errors of his Republican predecessor. The issue here is not even a reckless foreign policy versus a domestic policy that may give Republicans grounds for hope: a foreign policy like this will not permit much of a domestic policy at all. It will consume a presidency, just as it consumed George W. Bush’s.

Considering Romney’s changeable views on other issues over the years, it was always a bad sign that Romney has consistently catered to the preferences of hard-liners on foreign policy. As Dan notes, there is no political advantage to be gained by the speech Romney gave, but he delivered it anyway. This doesn’t mean that Romney genuinely believes his statements, but that he puts a higher priority on satisfying these hard-liners in his own party than he does on not alarming and alienating voters. If anyone is counting on a Romneyan “pivot” on foreign policy because of his tendency to bow to political pressure, this speech should put an end to that hope. It’s true that Romney hasn’t committed himself to much yet, but what he has committed himself to so far is quite awful. At the very least, no Romney supporters should be kidding themselves that their preferred candidate will turn out to be something other than the aggressive hawkish nationalist he claims to be.

As I expected, it didn’t have much more to say than the speech he gave at the VFW in the summer. Part of the Afghanistan passage in this morning’s speech was taken almost word-for-word from the earlier one. Much of the speech was an extended-length version of the op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal last week, and didn’t include much more than the op-ed in terms of outlining Romney’s agenda beyond repeating things he had said many times before. While Romney didn’t emphasize the most belligerent elements of his agenda, he endorsed arming the Syrian opposition through intermediaries (which is more or less the administration’s current policy) and rejecting Iran’s possession of a “nuclear weapons capability” (which is far more hawkish than current policy). Insofar as antiwar conservatives and libertarians can discern what Romney’s policy positions are, they are often worse than what we have now when they are not virtually identical. If Dan is right that Romney’s foreign policy agenda will consume his administration, this is a problem not just for antiwar conservatives and libertarians but for all Romney supporters.

Despite ostensibly being an address on U.S. foreign policy as a whole, today’s speech was concerned almost entirely with North Africa and the Near East. Many Americans over the last decade have come to think of U.S. foreign policy mostly in terms of U.S. involvement in the Near East and North Africa, but this view mistakenly neglects U.S. interests and policies everywhere else. Romney’s speech included passing references to Russia, China, Latin America, and Europe, but he had almost nothing to say about U.S. relations with the major powers and the EU. As usual, Romney spoke as if Europe didn’t exist except as a source of more military spending for NATO that won’t be forthcoming. His remarks on Latin America were extremely brief. It’s remarkable that the speech billed as Romney’s “significant” foreign policy address ignored them as much as it did. However, even here Romney’s vagueness is not reassuring. What we can glean from these brief mentions about Russia and missile defense, China and East Asia, and Hugo Chavez is that Romney continues to be the candidate of “omni-directional belligerence.”

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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