When John R. Bolton added his name to the list of Mitt Romney's endorsers last week, it was, Ben Smith writes, all part of a "subtle but important shift" to the right in foreign policy for the GOP candidate.
For those who believe it would be hard for Romney to move much further rightward than he already has, it was indeed subtle. This is, after all, the guy who, as governor of Massachusetts, his knee jerking hard, said of a Sept. 11, 2005, visit by Mohammad Khatami, the former president of Iran, "I think it's an outrage in this season of memory of those that lost their lives that we would be inviting someone who is a terrorist to this country."
Khatami, of course, was no terrorist. He was rather the best hope for reform Iranians had seen in 25 years, and likewise the best hope for cranking down tensions between Iran and Europe and the United States. Romney's comment was a simple pander because, y'know, all Muslims are alike. If they're not members of al Qaeda, they want to be.
Romney's mutual embrace of Bolton also seemed a confirmation of his speech last October at The Citadel, the South Carolina military college. It was there that he invoked a phrase made prominent more than a decade ago in the neo-conservative circles inhabited by Bolton and the presidential advisers who gave us the Bush Doctrine of preventive war:
“This century must be an American century. In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.” [...]
“God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will. Without American leadership, without clarity of American purpose and resolve, the world becomes a far more dangerous place, and liberty and prosperity would surely be among the first casualties. Let me make this very clear. As president of the United States, I will devote myself to an American century. And I will never, ever apologize for America.” [...]
This is America’s moment. We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America’s time has passed. That is utter nonsense. An eloquently justified surrender of world leadership is still surrender.
That Providence rather than human beings created the United States was, you may remember, the view of America held by the English Pilgrims and Puritans. They discovered that the epidemics they believed God had sent to clear the land of its original inhabitants for their benefit had not done as good a job as was needed and required some additional effort with muskets, swords and torches to finish.
The implication of "surrender" in Romney's speech was, of course, no different than that of six decades ago when the Republican charge was "Who lost China [to communism]?" In other words, Democrats are "weak on defense." Tried and true campaigning by the GOP ever since. So much so that Democrats themselves have bought the theme, having themselves appointed Republicans more often than Democrats to serve as Secretary of Defense in the past 60 years. Romney chose not "weak" but rather "feckless" to describe Obama's defense policies. No mention of Osama bin Laden because that would wreck the narrative. As would pointing out that plenty of leftist critics consider Obama's foreign policy too aggressive.
Since the Citadel speech, Romney's positions have become clearer both in what he's said and what he hasn't. There will be no talking with Iran, no talking with the Taliban, no bringing the troops home from Afghanistan, apparently no talking with the Russians about further reductions in the planet-trashing capabilities of the world's two largest nuclear arsenals, no retreat from the Bush Doctrine on preventive wars that international law labels wars of aggression. But not to worry:
“Romney isn’t interested in becoming Bush Three,” said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations under George W. Bush and a Romney supporter. “Smart leaders learn from others’ mistakes. Many foreign policy conservatives believe that the primary criteria for U.S. foreign policy positions should be how it effects our national security. Over the past several years we unfortunately moved away from that principle.
“With exploding budget deficits and a national debt, the U.S. can’t afford to police the world or nation build. But we also can’t afford to jeopardize Americans’ safety by ignoring developing threats from our enemies or watching our defense capabilities decline below China’s or others’,” Grenell said.
In other words, although Romney doesn't want to be Bush III, even a modest slowing down of the massive growth in the Pentagon's budget, as President Obama has proposed, is anathema. Romney has proposed adding more ships to a Navy he has labeled "hollowed out" and maintaining the size of the Army and Marines, the two branches having grown in the past four years by more than 100,000 active-duty troops for a total of 766,000. Romney has proposed increasing the core Pentagon budget by about 5 percent from the 2012 level of $533 billion, while Obama has proposed cutting it by 2 percent in 2013 and then letting it rise at the rate of inflation in the years thereafter.
So much for concern about debt and for not policing the world. Romney pretends that we can spend more on continuing the U.S. military build-up and rebuild the U.S. economy simultaneously. That fantasy alone makes him unfit to be president.
Meanwhile, to neoconservatives—allegedly discredited by the war in Iraq, but still resilient inside the GOP, Romney’s rejection of suggestions from rivals like Jon Huntsman that the U.S. should cut defense spending and bring home troops represents a kind of vindication.
“Give Romney credit—he had some of those people in his camp, and he’s clearly made the choice to go in the other direction,” said Michael Goldfarb, a former McCain aide who chairs the conservative Center for American Freedom. “There is no coherent alternative to neocon foreign policy in the party.
What Romney might actually do in foreign policy were he to defeat Obama may well be a far cry from what he sounds like he might do on the campaign trail. But while he's not calling for the reinvasion of Iraq like the Texan who just gave up the GOP contest and endorsed Newt Gingrich, accepting the advice of John Bolton and the other purveyors of a militarily backed "American Century" sounds like a song we've heard before. At immense cost of lives and treasure.