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The Case Against Mitt Romney for State

Frank Bruni makes the case for Romney as Secretary of State:

Over his own two presidential campaigns, Romney became ever more fluent in international issues, and he even showed some prescience, identifying Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a grave menace before other politicians woke up to that. He was ridiculed for dwelling in the past. Turns out he was living in the future.

The idea that Romney “showed some prescience” in 2011-12 about Russia (or anything else) is silly revisionism, but I expect we’ll hear about it a lot if Trump ends up choosing him. Even granting that a stopped clock can be right twice a day, Romney wasn’t right about any major foreign policy issues four years ago. Specifically, he called Russia our “number one geopolitical foe,” which wasn’t true then and still isn’t now. It was a silly line that was deservedly mocked because it was false (and because it showed Romney had no clue what he was talking about). He proposed to take actions intended to provoke and annoy Russia on the assumption that any attempt at conciliation or engagement is tantamount to appeasement. That is not prescience, but rather the most unimaginative hawkish line one could possibly take.

One of the purposes of engaging with Russia–or with any other powerful state–is to reduce tensions and minimize the risk of conflict. Romney’s agenda in 2012 was to increase tensions and to cast Russia as our principal foe in the world. That’s not clever or far-seeing, but represents an irresponsible and reckless approach to foreign policy. Putting Romney in a position where he would have a chance to put these bad ideas into practice is folly, and the only reason that it is being taken seriously at all is that his most likely competition appears to be even worse.

The fact that Russia has done aggressive things that the U.S. and our allies oppose in the last few years doesn’t mean that Romney showed “prescience.” He was taking a reflexively anti-Russian position, and he maintained that engaging with Russia was a mistake. Support for engaging with Russia is arguably one of the few sensible positions Trump took during the campaign, so it would make even less sense to give the job to Romney if he intends to follow through on that. Indeed, putting Romney at State would be as clear a sign as one could want that repairing relations with Russia will be a low priority in Trump’s foreign policy.

Does anyone think that U.S.-Russian relations would be better today if Romney had been president for the last four years? Does anyone think that the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria would not have happened or would have been less destructive if the U.S. had followed his more confrontational course? If we’re being honest, I don’t think anyone outside of a group of hard-liners would claim either of those things. If that’s right, Romney’s supposed “prescience” amounts to nothing, which is what you would expect from someone with such a poor grasp of foreign policy issues as Romney had and presumably still has.

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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