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On Foreign Policy, Romney Would Be The Republican Bill Clinton

Daniel Larison rightly questions [1]Jacob Heilbrunn’s highly questionable opposition [2] of “neoconservative” and “Massachusetts moderate” foreign policy views fighting for the soul (or, at least, the brain) of Mitt Romney. But he then goes on to say:

It’s also a mistake to think that there is any contradiction between being a social liberal and supporting hard-line and hawkish foreign policy. If you doubt that, just consider Giuliani . . . Moderate Republicans in general may tend to be less inclined to ideological and hard-line foreign policy views, but most moderate Republicans on the national stage tend to be hawkish on foreign policy partly because that seems to compensate for their disagreements with movement conservatives on domestic issues.

Larison is absolutely right that there’s a species of, let’s call them “New Republic-ans” who are relatively moderate on some domestic issues but extremely hawkish on foreign policy: Giuliani, McCain, etc. And there’s also a species of Midwestern Republican who are relatively moderate, Hamiltonian-types on foreign policy and who are temperamentally conservative but not very ideological on domestic issues: Dole, Lugar, etc.

But the distinguishing mark about Romney’s foreign policy views is that they aren’t seriously-considered views at all. They are transparently opportunistic ploys designed purely for political positioning. In this, he resembles no recent Republican candidate, and most closely resembles President Clinton in 1992.

Candidate Clinton, you will recall, did his share of hawkish posturing; he attacked President Bush for coddling the “butchers of Beijing,” for example. And he did more than his share of shameless positioning, saying, for example, that he would have voted for the Gulf War resolution even though he would privately have opposed the war. And he did his share of box-checking for domestic constituencies with in keen interest in places like Ireland, Israel, Cuba. But there was no serious attempt to wrap these various opportunistic moves into a coherent foreign policy vision.

And, in office, Clinton’s foreign policy consisted mostly of feckless preening about America’s “indispensability” while squandering the opportunities presented by the first President Bush’s masterful handling of the end of the Cold War, and primarily serving the interests of international finance capital. We forget, now, because his successor was so disastrous on so grand a scale, that at the end of Clinton’s second term he may have been a globally-famous “rock star” but most world leaders were glad to see the back of him.

All signs point to Romney being cut from a Republican version of the same cloth. The global context is different, and therefore the policies would undoubtedly be substantially different as well, but what I’d expect from a Romney Presidency is neither a moderate Eisenhower foreign policy of cautious consolidation of a hegemonic position, nor a radical Bush II foreign policy of imperial dragon-slaying, but a lot of gratuitously alienating bombast around a policy aimed at short-term political considerations and the interests of international finance. Could we do worse? Sure – President Santorum could be leading armies of Christian soldiers through Caracas on the way to La Paz. But we could do better – indeed, right now we are.

President Obama has played Eisenhower-on-Korea in his handling of Iraq, Nixon-on-Vietnam in his handling of Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Clinton-on-Kosovo in his handling of Libya. That’s a mixed bag, to be sure. But any unbiased observer would have to conclude that he takes foreign policy seriously. There is no evidence that Mitt Romney has given the subject a second’s serious thought.

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19 Comments To "On Foreign Policy, Romney Would Be The Republican Bill Clinton"

#1 Pingback By Eunomia » Romney Might Govern Like Clinton, But He’s Campaigning Like McCain On March 8, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

[…] Millman is right about Romney and foreign policy: All signs point to Romney being cut from a Republican version of […]

#2 Comment By Johnny F. Ive On March 8, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

I see Clinton’s foreign policy as a logical outgrowth from his predecessor. Bush II took what his two predecessors did and expanded. He was also a victim of his predecessors decisions (as is Obama) such as the failure of the middle east peace process, destroying Iraq’s infrastructure, not dealing with Al Qaeda, and putting military bases inside Saudi Arabia which provoked Osama Bin Laden. The Iraq war in 2003 was a result of a bipartisan consensus:
[3]

Obama is obeying the agreement Bush II had with Iraq. He continued and expanded the bombings in Pakistan. He has sought dialogue with the Taliban. I don’t believe Bush II tried that after 9/11. He has not seriously pursued diplomacy with Iran. He put himself in a box. The sanctions are being set. All that is missing is a Bush I/Clinton styled attack on Iran to kick off the next war. Obama has continued Bush II’s policy of resistance against attacking Iran. Obama seems somewhere between “Clinton-on-Kosovo” and “Bush-on-Darfur” with Syria as of right now. Romney might attack Iran. I’m afraid to know what Santorum would do. Armageddon perhaps? I think Obama is a safer bet than the other two because we’ve seen his hand. The other two seem to want to use foreign policy to nurse their wounded narcissistic pride for national greatness through militarism.

#3 Comment By Kirt Higdon On March 9, 2012 @ 10:33 am

As Col. Bacevich has pointed out, what is noteworthy about US foreign policy is not the differences between administrations but the continuities. Right now Obama is continuing and increasing the Bush II policy of permanent war 24/7. The age of the drone has made it possible to attack more countries with few US troops at risk and Obama (or should I say Obomber) is taking full advantage of this. Romney can be expected to provide more of the same, if elected. A strong minority in any democracy will favor killing foreigners out of fear or for fun and profit. Most will be resigned or indifferent and almost no one will vote for a candidate on the basis of his not having bombed or promised to bomb foreigners.

#4 Comment By tbraton On March 9, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

“But we could do better – indeed, right now we are.

President Obama has played Eisenhower-on-Korea in his handling of Iraq, Nixon-on-Vietnam in his handling of Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Clinton-on-Kosovo in his handling of Libya. That’s a mixed bag, to be sure. But any unbiased observer would have to conclude that he takes foreign policy seriously. There is no evidence that Mitt Romney has given the subject a second’s serious thought.”

I think your Obama bias is showing. “Eisenhower-on-Korea in his handling of Iraq”? Doesn’t that completely overlook the fact that the agreement to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011 was reached with Iraq under George W.’s Administration and Obama simply delayed the earlier deadline he had campaigned on during his 2008 campaign and stuck to the Bush-Iraq timetable? And that was only after unsuccessfully begging the Iraqis to keep our troops there longer. Eisenhower ended an ongoing war. Obama merely allowed the Iraq war to go on a little longer until the previously agreed deadline arrived. The analogy seems a little shaky.

“Nixon-on-Vietnam in his handling of Afghanistan/Pakistan”? I don’t recall Nixon actually increasing the number of troops in Vietnam after he took office. He began the slow (too slow) winddown of U.S. military presence in Vietnam, and the war had ended by the completion of Nixon’s first term. In contrast, Obama greatly increased the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after he took office because he thought it was the “good war” and extended the fighting to Pakistan (that might be analogous to Nixon’s extending the fighting to Cambodia). By the end of Obama’s first term, we will have many more troops in Afghanistan than we had at the beginning of the Obama Adminstration, and the end is not yet clear. Again, a very shaky analogy.

“Clinton-on-Kosovo on his handling of Libya”? This one is closer to the mark, but I’m not sure why that represents a feather in Obama’s cap when he took us into war without Congressional approval and where his own SOD Gates said we had no vital national interests. The resulting mess in Libya does not speak well of Obama’s decision-making skill.

“we could do better—indeed, right now we are.” The emphasis has to be on “right now” since Obama has apparently convinced the Israelis to delay an attack on Iran until after the November election, since it is pretty clear that he does not want the global economic mess that would result from such an attack to endanger his reelection chances. But the fact that he submitted to Israeli blackmail and had to pledge that the U.S. “has Israel’s back” does not inspire confidence on his or Israel’s future actions following the election. For historical analogies, note the Democratic Presidents Wilson and Lyndon B. Johnson.

#5 Comment By Noah Millman On March 9, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

I think all these criticisms of my analogies have merit. I don’t think the Libya war is a “feather in Obama’s cap” by any means – I think it’s the least-defensible foreign policy decision he’s made.

Re: my Nixon analogy specifically, you are of course correct that Nixon reduced troop levels, he didn’t increase them. But in other ways – the bombing of North Vietnam, operations in Laos and Cambodia, etc. – he intensified the war considerably. More importantly, he campaigned on having a secret plan to win the war in Vietnam, and in office he shifted strategy in an effort to win the war while simultaneously transitioning more responsibility for the war effort to South Vietnam. That, in broad strokes, strikes me as analogous to what Obama has tried to do in Afghanistan/Pakistan, though of course the specifics of the strategic changes they made and the strategic objectives they set differ substantially. Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan has had extremely limited success apart from the key objective of crippling al Qaeda as an organization – but, then again, Nixon’s Vietnamization didn’t work terribly well either.

Your point about “right now,” meanwhile, is extremely apropos. Obama’s legacy will depend substantially on what happens with Iran. If he launches a preemptive war in his second term, his legacy will be of even greater bellicosity than George W. Bush. If Israel launches one on its own, he’ll be judged a failure for not having prevented war. If there is no war, but Iran tests an atomic weapon, he’ll be judged a failure in his own terms, since he declared that such an outcome is “unacceptable.” Obama is in a bit of a tight box on Iran, though one can debate the extent to which he built that box himself.

I owe the blog a much longer post about Iran.

#6 Comment By reflectionephemeral On March 9, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

“But the distinguishing mark about Romney’s foreign policy views is that they aren’t seriously-considered views at all. They are transparently opportunistic ploys designed purely for political positioning.”

I agree that Mitt Romney doesn’t apparently care any more about foreign policy than he does about any other policy issue– that is, he has no preferences whatsoever, and will say whatever he calculates will allow him to win the nearest election.

But the substance of his criticisms has to matter, and the people he’ll give power to as president has to matter too.

Romney’s advisers are [4]. Sure, as long as he gets to be president, Romney doesn’t really care whether he has Eliot Cohen or Dennis Kucinich making decisions about Iran policy. But it’s Cohen, and Robert Kagan, he has as advisers.

In order to argue that his foreign policy would be Clintonian, you have to argue that, as president, Romney would appoint people like Martin Indyk and Hillary Clinton to important foreign policy positions. But he’s got Bushian rhetoric and Bushian advisers.

For all the continuity between Bush and Obama, you’ll note a reduction in the unprovoked invasions of foreign countries under the latter. The folks being heard & making decisions in a Romney administration would be working to revert to Bush Jr.’s policies on that front. (And on torture).

#7 Comment By tbraton On March 9, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

“Obama is in a bit of a tight box on Iran, though one can debate the extent to which he built that box himself.”

For a number of years now, I have been posting on TAC (one blog or another, but mostly Larison’s, poor guy) a link to the interview Obama gave to his hometown Chicago Tribune less than 2 months before his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004. I don’t know if you have caught that interview, but here it is in case you missed it. [5] As you implied in your response, Obama built that box himself, and he built it years ago. What I find hilarious is his criticizing the Republican candidates (except Ron Paul) for the same over-the-top rhetoric he was using as an insignificant State senator in Illinois back in 2004.

BTW, although I normally vote Republican, I voted against George W. in 2004 (because I was opposed to the Iraq war) and for Obama in 2008 (because I couldn’t stomach McCain/Palin). Even though I disagree strongly with his domestic policies, had he not expanded our presence in Afghanistan and launched his unjustified and illegal war against Libya, I might have brought myself to vote for him again. Apart from my distaste for McCain, I thought Obama was more anti-war than he actually is and thought he was smart enough to figure out that Afghanistan was a sorry mess that we should exit ASAP. Instead, the clung to his unshaken belief that Afghanistan was a “good war,” which told me that he is not as smart as I thought he was or certainly as he thinks he is.

#8 Comment By theod On March 9, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

Baloney. Mr. Romney states that he wants:

Double Guantanamo.
To do whatever Israel/Netenyahu wants.
To bomb Iran.
To increase the DOD budget and cut more taxes.
A foreign-policy team that brought you and learned NOTHING from the Iraq War Debacle (including but not limited to: Hayden, Chertoff, Edelman, Zakheim, Reiss, Rademaker, Dobriansky, Prosper, Senor, Black.

If you like Bush/Cheney, you’ll love Romney/RedMeat NeoCon.

#9 Comment By cw On March 10, 2012 @ 2:20 am

“I owe the blog a much longer post about Iran.”

I would like to see that. About Obama, I really dislike politicians who lie but I hope Obama has recently been lying (or at least wording things cleverly) and doesn’t really believe that we have to attack Iran either to prevent them from building or deprive them of a nuclear weapon. I hope that he actually prefers a policy of containment.

The key to this situation is that Israel’s current government most likely does not believe in containment and will at some point attack (bomb?) Iran to prevent them from developing a nuke. I do wonder if they have the resources to actually pull this off. If they don’t then we have leverage. If they do then it’s all about Obama trying to hold them off (with lies about his intentions) while he negotiates something.

So Noah, do you think Israel has the military capability to–I would think most likely bomb Iran (I can’t imagine them invading)– to prevent them developing a nuke?

Also, do you think Obama is lying? If not, do you think his stated position is correct?

#10 Comment By Steven Sailer On March 10, 2012 @ 9:27 am

Dear Noah:

What lessons do you think Romney took from his father’s “brainwashed” gaffe over Vietnam in 1967?

#11 Comment By Kirt Higdon On March 10, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

”For all the continuity between Bush and Obama, you’ll note a reduction in the unprovoked invasions of foreign countries under the latter.”

In the unprovoked invasions, yes. But an increase in the unprovoked bombings. Even Bush learned that there is no profit in putting boots on the ground and I don’t think Romney is stupid, merely amoral and opportunistic. Death from the sky by robot aircraft is how the US will destroy countries from here on out. That and a few commando raids just to give militaristic Americans heroes to worship and to sell books and movies.

#12 Comment By tbraton On March 10, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

“What lessons do you think Romney took from his father’s “brainwashed” gaffe over Vietnam in 1967?”

Steve Sailer, I know you addressed your question to Noah Millman, so I apologize for butting in and adding my two-cents worth. I have been citing the brain-washing incident of Romney’s father for a number of years, principally on Larison’s blog. It was interesting to see that the recent Romney biography by the two Boston Globe reporters (which I have not read) apparently makes much of that incident and the impact it had on Romney.

I also like to cite two incidents during Romney’s runs for President, which seem to have reinforced the much earlier experience of his father. In 2008 (South Carolina debate, I believe), Romney expressed less than whole-hearted enthusiasm for the “Surge” in Iraq (“appears to be working”) and got slammed hard by McCain (“not appears to be working, Governor, it IS working”), to heavy applause from the audience. McCain went to win South Carolina and the nomination. Then, in June 2011, Romney stated during one of the early debates that we shouldn’t be fighting Afghanistan’s “war of independence,” indicating that he favored a pullout. (He was undoubtedly responding to Huntsman, who had recently entered the race and had called for withdrawal of most U.S. troops, on the ground that we shouldn’t be fighting Afghanistan’s “civil war.”) The next day Romney got slammed by McCain’s constant travelling companion, Sen. Lindsey Graham (that South Carolina connection again), for his “isolationism.” Romney has uttered nothing but hawkish sounds ever since.

Just as I believe that Romney is at heart pro choice when it comes to abortion (his Mother’s influence was quite strong—that doesn’t bother me since I believe in a woman’s right to choose), I believe at heart he is a lot closer to Ron Paul than Rick Santorum. Unfortunately, in today’s Republican Party, you have to sound like a deranged version of Barry Goldwater to have any chance at securing the Republican nomination. As I have noted several times on Larison’s blog, there has to be a good reason why the neocon Bill Kristol is so strongly opposed to Romney. The irony is that Kristol thinks Romney won’t be the hawk once he is President, which is exactly what I am hoping.

P.S.–The fact that Romney’s foreign policy advisers all seem to be neconservatives does argue strongly against my interpretation. I wonder where Romney’s Brent Scowcroft is hiding. (Ironically, Scowcroft is a Mormon, something I only learned a few years ago from a Mormon friend.)

#13 Comment By Steven Sailer On March 11, 2012 @ 1:35 am

Dear tbraton:

Thanks, most informative.

It’s frustrating that it’s so hard to find out much about Presidential candidates in an age where they are so focus-grouped.

#14 Comment By Dan Cooper On March 11, 2012 @ 1:37 am

“But any unbiased observer would have to conclude that he takes foreign policy seriously. There is no evidence that Mitt Romney has given the subject a second’s serious thought.”

Really? Here’s some evidence for ya:

[6]

#15 Comment By Oliver’s Army On March 11, 2012 @ 4:13 am

“the first President Bush’s masterful handling of the end of the Cold War, ”

Bears repeating. If the Republicans had a Bush the Elder on offer I’d vote for him in a minute, the ADA and “read my lips” notwithstanding. Also agree that the Clinton presidency was a 8 years of squandered opportunity.

There’s no better illustration of the rot that set in with the neocon dispensation than the complete, utter absence of “wise men” from the councils of the GOP. I’d give half my salary in taxes to get James Baker (or anyone even remotely like him) back at State for four years.

#16 Comment By Noah Millman On March 11, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

tbraton: thanks for fielding that one. Very informative.

It’s clear that Romney learned the lesson “watch what you say” but you’ve got to do a lot of tea-leaf-reading to come to the conclusion that Romney is “really” anti-interventionist – as opposed to merely not being a “true believer” like McCain or Santorum. In this regard, it’s worth recalling that Kristol supported McCain over Bush in 2000, in large part because he wasn’t convinced Bush had settled foreign policy views, but he knew McCain was a true believer. Bush didn’t turn out to follow the “humble” foreign policy he claimed to want during the campaign – and Romney isn’t even doing that much.

#17 Comment By Guest On March 11, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

It really will not matter. This country has been on our current trajectory of increased global militarism for decades. In the post Vietnam era, perhaps one could argue that Bush I got us started, Clinton maintained that trajectory, Bush II ramped it up big time, and Obama has continued us on that path with more shenanigans to come I believe. There is absolutely nothing about Romney that indicates a desire to alter that path. He has stated he wants to increase spending on the military while he gives all of us an across the board tax cut. Sound familiar? This country needs a paradigm shift and I see nobody (except Paul) who has the courage to take us there.

#18 Comment By MZ On March 11, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

I have not seen a more illiterate electorate than the one in this country. Every one criticizes all the candidtaes and disagrees with their policies, foreigh or otherwise. However, in the end they will vote for either Obama or his opponent. No one has the courage to write in the name of Ron Paul and really revolutionize the election process by electing a write in candidate and shake up the establishment.

About Iran! The highest religious authority in the country, as well as, the President and many others have iterated many time that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. They are signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), have allowed the IAEA inspectors to visit their facilities. They need the nuclear energy for domestic and medical use, which is their right under the NPT. Sixteen intelligence agencies in the US have said that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. What will it take for people in this country to believe that Iran is telling the truth? Do they believe that every body is a liar except our politicians and the Israelies? The record of both speaks volumes about their truthfullness. Are the american so blood thirsty that they will allow killing millions of men, wome, and children either through starvation or death from the air. By what right we prevent Iran from buying aircraft parts for their civilian aircraft?
Please show some back bone and elect Ron Paul. The only politician who had a consistent policy throughout his career.

#19 Comment By cw On March 13, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

“No one has the courage to write in the name of Ron Paul and really revolutionize the election process by electing a write in candidate and shake up the establishment.”

Would it be courage or idiocy? He wants to abolish the federal reserve and return to the gold standard. Clinging to the gold standard was what caused the great depression. Even though as president it is unlikely he could unilaterally return us to the gold standard, just recommending this shows a complete ignorance of economics and/or a preference for ideology over reason. An ignoramus an/or an ideologue, not much to recommend him there. There is no way I can vote for someone like that–even if his position on the military more or less happens to coincides with mine.