Monday, November 14, 2011

Is Mitt Romney a Pretend Hawk?

Since deciding to run for President again, Mitt Romney has been trying to do 2 things, appear conservative economically and hawkish militarily.  While his attempt to appear conservative has been sabotaged thanks to a wealth of YouTube videos and his record as Governor of Massachusetts, his attempt to appear hawkish has not received the same debunking, mostly due to a lack of evidence (Governor's of Massachusetts luckily can't run their own foreign policy).  Also, his speech at the Citadel and his recent Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on Iran titled " I Won't Let Iran Get Nukes" really did sound good.  As if finally conservatives could feel comfortable about one area of Romney's beliefs so that if he does win in 2012, you won't just be biting your pillow in rage ever time you hear of one of his policy moves.  Unfortunately, the CBS/NJ debate on foreign policy really elucidated how there will likely be a major disconnect between what Romney campaigns on and what Romney actually does.  First, let's take a look at his response to a very straightforward question on Iran, which I think is one of the most important foreign policy issue/threat that we are facing today:

Scott Pelley: Governor Romney, would it be worth goin' to war to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?

Mitt Romney: Well, let's-- let's start back from there and let's talk about where we are. This is, of course, President Obama's greatest failing, from a foreign policy standpoint, which is he recognized the gravest threat that America and the world faces-- and faced was a nuclear Iran and he did not do what was necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly. What he should have done is speak out when dissidents took the streets and say, "America is with you." And work on a covert basis to encourage the dissidents.

Number two, he should have put-- put in place crippling sanctions against Iran. But instead of getting Russia, for instance, to-- what-- what he gave in our-- our missile defense system to agree to-- to stand with those crippling sanctions, he gave Russia what they wanted, their number one foreign policy objective, and got nothing in return.


(Successfully argues with moderator over the time after being prematurely cut off)

Mitt Romney: Fin-- finally, the president should have built credible-- threat of military action, and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Look, one thing you can know-- and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you'd like me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.

Scott Pelley: But sir, let me-- you just described where we are today, and that's what you're going to have to deal with if you become president. How do you prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon? Is it worth going to war to prevent that?

Mitt Romney: Well, it's worth putting in place crippling sanctions. It's worth working with the insurgents in the company to encourage regime change in the country. And if all else fails, if after all of the work we've done, there's nothing else we can do beside mil-- take military action, then of course you take military action. It is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. This term "unacceptable" has been applied by several presidents over history, and our current president has made it very clear that he's not willing to do those things necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly. I will take a different course. I will make sure that the sanctions, diplomatic pressure, economic pressure, and support of insurgents within the country help them become dissuaded to get away from their nuclear ambition. And finally--

Scott Pelley: This time, it is time.

Mitt Romney: Yeah, and finally, have to-- have to have military presence there.

Romney is asked a very straightforward question on Iran, is it worth going to war with Iran to prevent it from getting nukes and instead of a "yes, because" sort of answer, he gives a really long-winded answer which focuses on sanctions (when was the last time they worked to make a major adversary fold?  Especially in the short amount of time that we have before Iran does develop nukes), help to the opposition (covertly) and a "credible threat" of military action (which of course is different than actually taking military action).  Even Scott Pelley felt the need to re-ask the question because it was very clear that Romney didn't answer it the first time around.  I really did not get a good feeling watching that answer on TV because it sounds like Romney would actually simply be a slightly more hawkish Obama with regards to Iran.  How long are we supposed to wait for sanctions to work after all?

Then there was the question about Afghanistan:

Major Garrett: Governor Romney, a much smaller footprint in Afghanistan? Do you support that? And secondarily, sir, is it time or would it ever be time for the United States to negotiate with the Taliban?

Mitt Romney: We don't negotiate with terrorists. I do not negotiate with the Taliban. That's something for the Afghans to decide how they're gonna-- pursue their course in the future. With regards to our footprint in Afghanistan, the right course is for us to do our very best to secure the victories that have been so hard won by the soldiers, the men and women of-- of our-- fighting forces who have been in Afghanistan.

The commanders on the field feel that we can take out 30,000 to 40,000 troops sometime by the end of next year. The commander in chief, perhaps looking at the calendar of the election, decided to bring them home in September, instead, in the middle of the fighting season. Our commanders said that puts our troops at risk, at danger, "Please don't pull 'em out there," they said.

But he said, "No, I'm gonna get 'em out early." I think that was a mistake. Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by December. And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces.

His big argument with Obama on Afghanistan is that the surge troops should be withdrawn in December instead of September?  That's it?  While I do understand that withdrawing troops in the middle of the fighting season is clearly a mistake, I would hope a GOP nominee has a greater difference in policy than 3 months in a timetable.  Also, he is for us withdrawing completely by 2014?  What happened to working for our victory?  This just seems like a replay of Vietnam where the debate was over the pace of withdrawal instead of over strategies to actually win (in fact, we were turning the tide thanks to the Creighton Abrams strategy there but we weren't able to see it through due to wishy washy politicians back home who waffled on the war, like Mitt's father George). 

And then there is the question of safe havens for insurgents in Pakistan:

Scott Pelley: Governor Romney, would you send American troops across the border into Pakistan to clear out those save havens? American men and women are coming under fire from those locations every single day.

Mitt Romney: The right way to deal with-- Pakistan is to recognize that Pakistan is not a country like other countries, with a strong political center that you can go to and say, "Gee, can we come here? Will you take care of this problem?" This is, instead, a-- nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn't reach that point, but it's a very fragile nation.

It really has four centers of power: the ISI, which is their-- their intelligence services, the military, separate group. You have the political structure, and of course, the fundamentalists. And so we have to work with our friends in that country to get them to do some of the things we can't do ourselves.

Bringing our troops into Pakistan and announcing at a stage like this that, as president, we would throw American troops into Pakistan, could be highly incendiary in a setting like that. Right now, they're comfortable with our using drones to go after the people that are-- that are representing a gr-- the greatest threat.

I do realize that Pakistan, as a nuclear power, is at ouch issue but once again, Mitt has clearly not learned any lessons from Vietnam. As a reminder, Vietnamese troops were given safe havens in Cambodia and Laos and even ran a supply network through those countries (the Ho Chi Minh Trail) thanks to a lack of political will in Washington.  By making safe havens off limits to devastating assault by the United States, you are putting American counterinsurgency activities at a major disadvantage.  We won't be able to defeat the Taliban until they don't feel safe anywhere.

Then of course, there is the issue of Israel.  Romney didn't talk about Israel much during this debate but in the Fox/Google debate back in September, Romney gave you a hint that he might not be as pro-Israel as you would like. 

QUESTION: As president, how would you approach the new reality in the Middle East, specifically with regards to our ally, Israel, and the existential threats it faces from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and now the Palestinian Authority?

Just before Bibi Netanyahu came to the United States, he threw Israel under the bus, tried to negotiate for Israel.

The right course -- if you disagree with an ally, you talk about it privately. But in public, you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your allies. The right course for us...


The right course for us is not to try and negotiate for Israel. The right course is to stand behind our friends, to listen to them, and to let the entire world know that we will stay with them and that we will support them and defend them.

Other than the usual stand-behind-Israel stuff, which even Obama attempts (remember his support for an undivided Jerusalem at AIPAC?), the only real specific issue Romney has with Obama's Israel policy is his criticism in public of Israel?  Does that mean he shares Obama's concerns and would just have voiced them in private?  That he thinks Israel should go back to the 1949 armistice lines?  Again, that is not very reassuring.

Once again, when you get past the rhetoric with Mitt Romney you see there just isn't much there.  His foreign policy, at best, is an Obama-lite approach which might see some differences (somewhat harsher sanctions on Iran, a slight delay in Afghan withdrawal) but really there are few substantive differences.

1 comment:

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