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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Romney and the Cult of Resolve

Towards the end of his VFW speech, Romney stated the core of his foreign policy vision: It is a mistake – and sometimes a tragic one – to think that firmness in American foreign policy can bring only tension or conflict. The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision. In the end, it […]

Towards the end of his VFW speech, Romney stated the core of his foreign policy vision:

It is a mistake – and sometimes a tragic one – to think that firmness in American foreign policy can bring only tension or conflict. The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision. In the end, it is resolve that moves events in our direction, and strength that keeps the peace.

When hawks use these words, they almost sound sensible until one realizes what the use of these words implies. After all, who wouldn’t prefer firmness to indecision and favor resolve over weakness? If we took these words at face value, no one would object, but we know from experience that when someone like Romney says firmness, he means belligerence and intrusiveness. What he refers to as “weakness and indecision” is more often prudence and caution, while “resolve” more often refers to arrogance, and strength is code for aggression.

Experience shows that decisiveness can be disastrous when the people making policy decide on an unwise course of action. Decisiveness can be responsible for haste and folly just as surely as indecision can sometimes invite dangers through delay. There is a thin line separating decisiveness from recklessness, and in recent years that distinction has been lost on national security hawks. Romney has shown no sign of recognizing it.

Romney relies on one of the most worn-out hawkish cliches around when he invests resolve with the power to “move events in our direction.” If only it worked that way, conducting foreign policy would be much easier than it is and would produce more desirable results than it does. In the end, this cult of resolve is nothing more than the elevation of willpower into a virtually magical force that overcomes the limits on American power by simply wishing that things will be the way we want them to be rather than working within the confines of the way things really are. One of the greatest flaws of the cult of resolve is that it ignores that other states have interests and goals that remain unaffected by American “resolve” or the lack of it.

Drezner remarks on this part of the speech:

If this really is Romney’s foreign policy philosophy, then he’s right, it’s a pretty sharp contrast with the incumbent. Not the “strongest nation on earth” business, but rather the importance of resolve. I’m not sure, however, that this is the contrast he wants. The last time someone ran foreign policy based on this philosophy was during the first term of the Bush administration. It didn’t end well.

Drezner is correct. Two things in the speech stand out. The first is Romney’s total refusal to adapt his arguments for a general election audience. The second is Romney’s decision to continue to identify himself with some of the most ridiculous hawkish positions available.

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