Many Americans are rightly disgusted by the non-choice they are offered in the presidential race every four years. This year is no different despite the serious problems that the United States faces at home and abroad. Mitt Romney has no actual plan to fix the economy, and the record of President Barack Obama over the past four years speaks for itself. Romney is a big-government Republican, while Obama is an even-bigger-government Democrat. Either will increase the deficit to the bankruptcy point; Romney through more spending on arms, soldiers, and wars, Obama with a sorely needed health-care program that will break the bank because it was created in collusion with the health-care and insurance industries and makes no effort to limit costs.
Most other differences are cosmetic, since the Democrats and Republicans in reality represent two nearly identical faces of the Washington policy elite, an elite that inevitably circles the wagons and protects its own first, last, and always. There is, however, one area in which American voters can actually register a preference, and that is foreign policy. The presidential foreign policy debate on Oct. 22 appeared to be a consensus product, with challenger Mitt Romney agreeing to most policies supported by incumbent Barack Obama. As expected, Israel was repeatedly exalted as the most valued U.S. ally, even though it is a strategic liability. Iran was mentioned no less than 47 times, repeatedly described as the greatest international threat to the United States even though it has never actually threatened to harm the American people and has no capability to do so. Obama shifted position somewhat on supporting an Israeli military operation against Iran by indicating that he would do so with U.S. military resources, a position that has been part of Romney’s playbook ever since he began his run. The only real difference between Romney and Obama consisted of Romney’s assertion that Iran should be denied the “capability” to create a nuclear weapon. “Capability” presumably means the ability to enrich uranium and engineer a bomb, which Iran already can do, meaning that Romney for all intents and purposes believes that he already has a casus belli to go to war against the mullahs.
The record of President Barack Obama is, to put it mildly, despicable. The public has learned recently how he has sought to make war a permanent feature of the U.S. landscape while allowing Iraq and Afghanistan to wind down to diminish any popular concern over what is happening in the name of “security.” So there will be fewer boots on the ground while the government moves full-speed ahead on creating an infrastructure in which kill lists will be managed by the White House through the National Counterterrorism Center. The lists will be expanded and will include detailed information on when and how the target might best be identified and killed. Information will be obtained through a massive data-mining operation that will quite plausibly intrude on the privacy of billions of people all around the world, including nearly everyone inside the United States itself.
The White House reportedly sees a continuing decade long struggle against militancy that will require an increasing number of drone strikes and special-operations assassinations in a number of countries with which the United States is not officially at war. A major part of the plan to take out the alleged terrorists identified in the government’s “disposition matrix” will involve killing suspects in areas where drones either cannot or do not operate, which means that teams of Delta and SEAL commandos will do the dirty work. That is what President Obama, who portrayed himself somewhat disingenuously as a peace candidate to win in 2008, has turned into: another all-American monster and war criminal.
Mitt Romney, not surprisingly, supports the drone operations, and one would have to assume that he also approves of the kill lists. If he objects to them in any way, he has certainly not said so. Romney’s comments in the debate that the U.S. can’t “kill our way out of this mess” in the Middle East and America possesses “the mantle of leadership for promoting the principles of peace.… We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan” were markedly out of character, a transparent attempt to portray himself as something less than a complete warmonger. Speaking to other audiences, Romney has been more consistent, advocating increases in the defense budget, calling for Washington’s asserting its “leadership” in the world, and touting American exceptionalism. He has turned over the decision-making for an American attack on Iran to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has promised to support Israel in whatever it chooses to do, whether or not it damages U.S. interests.
Romney is truly an empty suit when it comes to foreign policy. His ignorance is astonishing, and his gaffes on foreign geography and politics are memorable. And dangerous. Russia and China are enemies, and they need to be confronted. The Palestinians don’t deserve a state and are culturally backward. Iran needs Syria to have a salt-water outlet. Britain doesn’t know how to run an Olympics safely. Both Russia and Iran have been described by Romney as America’s principal enemies, depending on which audience is being flip-flopped to on which occasion.
The big question is, of course, whether Romney will actually do what he appears to be saying or will he moderate his views if elected. The evidence is that he will be another George W. Bush, pursuing a blinkered and interventionist foreign policy that will surely include a war against Iran. Why is it possible to say that with some confidence? It is because of the people he has surrounded himself with. Seventeen of 24 identified senior foreign policy advisers are Bush administration neocons. Nearly all of them who have expressed an opinion on the subject are in favor of a preemptive military attack on Iran.
John Bolton and Joe Lieberman are reported to be in the running for secretary of state and secretary of defense. Lieberman has also been tabbed as a possible director of Homeland Security. Cofer “the gloves come off” Black, a former CIA officer and senior Blackwater executive, who has been described as “one of the most brutal figures in CIA history, heading the agency’s Counterterrorism Center at the time of the 9/11 attacks,” has been identified as a possible director of national intelligence or possibly director of the CIA. The national security adviser could be Eric Edelman, who replaced Doug Feith at the Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon. Elliott Abrams, the Iran-Contra felon, and Dan Senor are also in the mix for the senior security, defense, and intelligence slots. Senor has become Romney’s principal adviser. He was a Pentagon adviser when he was elevated under George W. Bush to become the principal spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Senor is a passionately pro-Israel hawk who is close to Benjamin Netanyahu. His sister Wendy runs the Jerusalem office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He is Romney’s principal adviser on Israel and the Middle East, favors attacking Iran, and is the apparently the source of the comments made by Romney denigrating the Palestinians.
Other Romney foreign policy advisers include Fred and Kimberly Kagan, Robert Kagan, Robert Joseph, and Elliot Cohen. Paul Ryan has been receiving foreign policy briefings from the Kagans and Elliot Abrams.
So there is a choice, of sorts. To my way of thinking, a Romney victory is a virtual guarantee that there will be war with Iran accompanied by the usual bellicose muscular interventionism that we have become accustomed to since 9/11. That sort of bluster will continue until the cash runs out, but Romney is also clearly willing to continue to borrow money so it can be given to the Pentagon, perhaps prolonging the process. Romney would also undoubtedly continue the odious policies relating to drones, kill lists, and assassination teams that he would inherit from his predecessor. Obama, on the other hand, will, if reelected, continue his Pilgrim’s Progress to become America’s most distinguished war criminal of the 21st century, even eclipsing the redoubtable George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in that regard. The choice for the voter comes down to how one prefers to see worldwide chaos and the death of the Constitution develop. It would be in heavy doses wrapped in the flag with Romney, while Obama would take pains to hide what he is doing as he marches down what is pretty much the same road. Some choice.