Romney’s Pretty Little War Speech

Romney is fond of invoking Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman — and now George Marshall — as though their 20th century foreign policy legacies could lend his own cobbled-together worldview some indomitable burnish. But he seems loath to even utter the name of the American President his views are most like — George W. Bush.

But that is exactly the president who came to mind Monday when Romney gave what was billed as a major foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, one of the nation’s oldest and most reliable bastions of southern partisan conservatism and Confederate military tradition, a virtual no-go for Democrats and mushy peaceniks, the perfect place for Romney to put on a show.

Dispensing with originality, Romney used the young cadets and the school’s history as props to give a speech that hewed dangerously to the messianic flights from reality taken by Bush and inspired by many of the folks now working for Romney, a virtual empty vessel when it comes to foreign policy experience or strategic vision.

These are the only passages you need to absorb before grabbing your children and valuables and heading for the exits:

The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East — a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself.

The attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the Administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.

Before ending the 30 minute speech — which seemed to breeze by, no doubt because it was so tissue-thin — he launched into what could only be described as a return to the “either you’re with us or against us” doctrine that irresponsibly agitates religious and ethnic flashpoints, uses the threat of punishment to win over “friends” and imposes our values on a world that is already tired of our pathologies, our American exceptionalism and our Ronald McDonald politics.

Anyone who wants to go back to this — the foreign policy of the Borg, with Bush, Cheney, Rice and Wolfowitz as its chief enforcers — should get his head examined. One might examine Romney’s head right now and find that the only things bouncing around in there like ice cubes in a glass of ice water are his foreign policy advisers, who by all accounts include the usual neoconservative consiglieri: Dan Senor, Robert Kagan, John Bolton, Dov Zakheim, Walid Phares, Eliot Cohen, Norm Coleman, Eric Edelman, and more.

Add them to the jackbooted thuggery represented by Cofer Black and Mike Chertoff on Romney’s team, not to mention the millions of dollars injected into the Romney campaign by Sheldon “I wish my son were an IDF sniper” Adelson, and we have a reanimated 2002 war cabinet that makes the Dawn of the Dead look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. The word over the summer was this group was frustrated they weren’t getting enough play — now it looks like they are making up for lost time — with a vengeance.

Romney and his advisers aren’t all punchy — they recognize that any hint of Bush would be as fresh as a gust of sour breath all over his audience in the “Hall of Valor,” the venue for his contrived remarks this morning. Thus, the thinly veiled attempt to bring some altruistic veneer to his bald warmongering by quoting Marshall, a VMI graduate, best known for post-World War II Marshall Plan.

“General Marshall once said, The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it.’ Those words were true in his time—and they still echo in ours,” Romney intoned.

But Marshall, remember, was also a good soldier. He was Army Chief of Staff and President Roosevelt’s top adviser during the war. As Secretary of Defense under President Truman (another neocon favorite) he helped escalate one of the most calamitous wars for our U.S. forces in the 21st Century, the Korean War. Maybe that was what Romney was really thinking, as launched into what could only be called his pretty little war speech for 2012.

First, he touched on the Libyan attack on the Benghazi consulate, better known as the first time Republicans and their surrogates in the media starting taking foreign policy seriously in the entire election. It has all the right ingredients, chiefly an “attack on America,” and the need to respond, preferably disproportionately, with firepower, torture, whatever it takes. Thus Romney’s words — the attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001.

In one masterful stroke, Romney gets to conjure those feelings of wounded American pride and 9/11, while rebuking the Obama Administration’s lack of control over the situation from the beginning. He further endeavors to — with broad brushes that would make George W. proud — paint this as a wider conflict across the Arab world, “a struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.” And then, with an audacity that likely left his neocon supporters singing hosannas of gratitude, tied it all back to World War II.

Then onto Israel. Obama, Romney charged, has put “daylight” between America and our greatest ally in the Middle East. This must not happen. “The world must never see any daylight between our two nations,” he insists, though later in the speech he claims, “I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel … in this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew.”

No one, especially Palestinians, believes this malarkey, especially when out of one side of his mouth he declares ultimate loyalty to Israel, while out of the other he pretends he could be a fairer broker than Obama. And don’t think we missed that crack about a “negotiation process that has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations.” That is a reference to the Palestinians taking their statehood claims to the world body because they believe the playing field isn’t fair, otherwise. Proving their point, the Obama administration has dismissively opposed the Palestinians’ request at the U.N. out of deference to their friends in Tel Aviv.

At this point, Romney unleashes his brief against the Obama Administration, which, by Team Romney’s own rabbit hole estimations, has left the world less safe against terrorism, less poised for democratic change, less hopeful about the future and well, less open to our hegemonic vision of “an American century.”

Sadly, while Romney may be right about disaster on the brink and the administration’s lack of a clear foreign policy/national security strategy to address it, he disregards our military provocations and meddling as a chief source of anti-Americanism, and instead proposes more aggression, more threats, more intervention — more war — as a remedy.

On Iran: “I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region-and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination. For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions-not just words-that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.”

Here Romney also chides Obama for not supporting the Green Movement, even though overt American pressure would have put those protesters at further risk, according to most experts. Meanwhile, Romney sees no irony in the fact that the sanctions are starving the very people he claims needed their assistance in the first place.

On Syria: Giving no specifics about anything, Romney suggests this dangerous foreign policy thicket is as simple as grandma’s best apple pie recipe: just add weapons and money and watch democracy in Syria grow.

In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran-rather than sitting on the sidelines. It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.

That’s what your advisers said about Iraq, Mitt. One would think the fact that Iraq is tighter with Iran today as a result of the war would chasten them. Oh, that’s right, they blame Obama for Iraq, too.

On Egypt: Romney might have well said, ‘be a good puppet and we’ll give you the aid you desire.” What he did say: “I will use our influence-including clear conditions on our aid-to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel. And we must persuade our friends and allies to place similar stipulations on their aid.”

On Russia, he said we must be “inflexible” with Vladimir Putin over missile defense, another doubling down on the asinine remark he made about Russia being “our number one geopolitical foe.” On NATO, we must hold our allies to the 2 percent of GDP they promised to fund it. Why don’t we just grab a stone and try wringing some water from it? On Afghanistan, he all but said the President invited new attacks on America by setting a timeline for withdrawal, which Romney will only keep to if “the generals” say it’s okay.

He promises to build 15 new ships and three new submarines a year, with no thoughts on how to pay for it while also pledging to slash the deficit and balance the federal budget. He promises to be “generous” with friends throughout the world — but at a price. “I will make it clear to the recipients of our aid that, in return for our material support, they must meet the responsibilities of every decent modern government-to respect the rights of all of their citizens, including women and minorities… to ensure space for civil society, a free media, political parties, and an independent judiciary… and to abide by their international commitments to protect our diplomats and our property.”

I’m quite sure Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will be the first to step up and sign that agreement with future President Romney, or as Romney humbly suggests, “the leader of the free world,” the caretaker of the planet.

I believe that if America does not lead, others will-others who do not share our interests and our values-and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years. I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America’s great influence-wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively-to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better-not perfect, but better.

He said our “friends and allies” in the world do “not want less American leadership. They want more,” and see America as the “hope of humankind.” One might ask what planet Team Romney might have landed on. I wonder if Reagan and Truman are there, goading him on and giggling behind his back. Back here in reality, this speech simply spells war.

Whether or not the American people have the appetite for that doesn’t seem to matter: Romney and his advisers are doubling down in an attempt to distance themselves from what has been a fairly hawkish four years under Obama. But Romney manages to come off as jingoistic and naive. He sounds like Bush, and that’s one specter from the pantheon he doesn’t want to raise.

Follow Vlahos on Twitter @KelleyBVlahos.

Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.