Since Mitt Romney has decided, for reasons that are a bit obscure, to make foreign policy a major focus of his campaign at this sensitive moment of the presidential contest, it’s time once again to note a rather jarring contradiction nestled in the center of his and his party’s policies and rhetoric. It’s nicely presented once again in a Wall Street Journal op-ed signed by the Republican nominee himself.
It begins with the usual “American exceptionalism” rap: the world is safe if the United States not only walks tall, but walks alone in its status as the source of all virtue and power:
Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We’re unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law. We ally ourselves with like-minded countries, expand prosperity through trade and keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.
But Obama doesn’t get it, and isn’t maintaining our towering-colossus position:
President Obama has allowed our leadership to atrophy. Our economy is stuck in a “recovery” that barely deserves the name. Our national debt has risen to record levels. Our military, tested by a decade of war, is facing devastating cuts thanks to the budgetary games played by the White House. Finally, our values have been misapplied—and misunderstood—by a president who thinks that weakness will win favor with our adversaries.
But what is the supreme example of Obama’s “weakness” and refusal to keep the United States the world’s sole supremely sovereign super-power? Refusing to outsource our Middle Eastern policy to Bibi Netanyahu:
The president began his term with the explicit policy of creating “daylight” between our two countries. He recently downgraded Israel from being our “closest ally” in the Middle East to being only “one of our closest allies.” It’s a diplomatic message that will be received clearly by Israel and its adversaries alike. He dismissed Israel’s concerns about Iran as mere “noise” that he prefers to “block out.” And at a time when Israel needs America to stand with it, he declined to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values.
So the first step Romney urges is “placing no daylight between the United States and Israel.” And that clearly includes a shift in U.S. policy towards Iran away from opposition to acquisition of nuclear weapons to the “red line” Netanyahu is demanding, acquisition of “nuclear capability,” which because of the vague nature of the definition of “capability,” means a pre-justification for military action against Tehran any old time now.
Put aside for a moment the arguments about Iran’s ultimate intentions and its alleged historically unique indifference to nuclear deterrence, or about the actual balance of military power in the Middle East. Forget if you can the calamitous consequences, not only to regional peace and stability, but to the U.S. and global economies, of war with Iran.
Think about this: Mitt Romney is running for president on a platform of indistinguishable and conjoined exceptionalism for the U.S. and Israel. And because Israel faces a vastly greater military threat, this means America would abandon its own independence of action and consign its fate to Bibi Netanyahu, a man whose views on peace and security are highly controversial in Israel itself.
Republican foreign policy thinking has had to go through a lot of twists and turns to arrive at this extraordinarily anomalous place. But the bottom line seems to be remarkably similar to the one embraced twelve years ago by George W. Bush and his advisors, who took office determined to wage war with Iraq, despite the cover of all the middle-school bully-boy talk of preventing war by plotting it constantly.
If Romney wins and the United States supinely follows Bibi into yet another, and this time vastly more dangerous, Gulf war, nobody can say we were not warned.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Anmal, October 1, 2012
It’s treacherous for a US presidential candidate to travel overseas — lots of opportunities for mis-chosen words and getting drawn into other countries’ domestic politics. With Mitt Romney about to leave on his big trip abroad he may already have had his first big foreign stumble. At a GOP fundraiser in San Francisco last night, Romney said that Australia’s foreign minister had warned him that foreign leaders see the US in decline and — at least in Romney’s telling — was hoping for Romney-like policies to make things right.
That at least was the version of the comments that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald. A similar version, but without the full quotes, appeared in the AP.
Quoting Romney: ”And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that, he led the talk of America being in decline. See that’s not talk we hear about here as much as they’re hearing there. And if they’re thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America’s in decline they’re not gonna do it.”
Whether or not the SMH got it right is one question. The Hill notes that the pool reports did not have Romney clearly characterizing the comments as a warning.
And now, Australia’s Foreign Minister’s office has come forward to shoot down Romney’s characterization of the discussion, calling Romney’s interpretation “not correct.”
You cannot take a shoot down like this at face value in any case. Whatever Carr said, he almost certainly didn’t expect Romney to turn around and use it as ammo in a political speech. Allies don’t want to get publicly embroiled in a US election — especially on the wrong side of an incumbent who they believe is more likely than not to get reelected. So he’d be under a lot of pressure to walk away from Romney’s comments, even if Romney was accurately characterizing them. On the other hand, maybe Mitt just made it up or gave it — probably the most likely option — a negative spin the retelling. One way or another, it will be interesting to see how Romney navigates this sort of stuff when he’s overseas.
By: Josh Marshall, Editor and Publisher, Talking Points Memo, July 23, 2012
No, that’s not a trick question. Yes, the answer is that easy. Of course, it’s Mitt Romney.
According to the manager of his trust, Mitt Romney’s Swiss bank account wasn’t an exercise in tax avoidance—rather, it was a hedge against a decline in the dollar. I’m not qualified to say whether or not his explanation is the full truth, but it certainly doesn’t provide evidence that Mitt Romney hates America. Obviously, an investment that bets on the decline of the dollar might not sound good, but when you have as much money as he does, you’re going to end up placing bets that might not be great soundbites for a campaign. In substantive terms, Romney is going to have a much bigger problem explaining why Bain profited from destroying companies than he will have explaining this.
But while the mere existence of the Swiss bank account doesn’t by itself raise questions about Mitt Romney’s loyalty to America, it provides one hell of a way to respond to Romney when he engages his his now-familiar attacks on President Obama’s loyalty. Despite all the attention paid to Newt Gingrich’s “food-stamp” line, Mitt Romney himself is no stranger to the hate card. His preferred formulation: that President Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, that he seeks to “poison the American spirit”, and that he wants to turn America into Europe and “keep us from being one nation under God.”
Of course, Mitt Romney is nothing like that at all. He’s just the kind of guy who bets on America’s decline to protect his own ass.
When Joseph Smith, the religious genius and sometime-treasure hunter who founded the Mormon faith, announced in 1844 that he was running for president of the United States, international affairs were not his top priority. In a pamphlet outlining his campaign platform, Smith quoted James Madison’s inaugural address declaring that he would “cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations.” But he never got the chance to elaborate on his foreign policy: Later that year, while Smith was in jail awaiting trial on charges that he had ordered the destruction of an anti-Mormon newspaper, a mob of armed men stormed his cell and fatally shot him as he jumped out of the window.
On the face of it, the Mormons angling for the White House in 2012 could hardly be more different from the founder of their faith. Where Smith turned to seer stones and wildcat banking schemes to raise money, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are paragons of fiscal caution and big-business capitalism — one a self-made millionaire, the other an heir to a billionaire’s chemical fortune. Smith was a charismatic prophet who commanded his followers to accept new scriptures and doctrines, like polygamous marriage and baptism of the dead, distinguishing the Mormon faith from mainstream Christianity. Romney and Huntsman, by contrast, appear to be respectable and rule-bound to a fault.
Both have distanced themselves from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ more idiosyncratic beliefs, and Huntsman has implied that he is no longer devout. Yet their domestic records and approaches to politics speak volumes about the Mormon worldview and what a Mormon president might mean for U.S. foreign policy. Despite the partisan rhetoric that the campaign trail may require, they are realists whose international experience and instinctive prudence would rein in their commitment to any ideological grand strategy.
Smith’s risky and mercurial behavior — and the conspiracy theories of today’s most famous Mormon guru, Glenn Beck — are exceptions in the church’s history and culture, not the rule. The early Latter-day Saints (so called because they believe that Smith restored the true church in the “latter days,” the last era before the Second Coming of Christ) did not build a self-sustaining empire in the Salt Lake Valley without a fair dose of caution and business sense. Some historians argue that Smith’s schemes were more pragmatic than they seem: His church’s survival and subsequent thriving suggest he did something right. In part, Mormons have prospered by adapting their beliefs to changing times. When doctrines like polygamous marriage and the prohibition against blacks in the Mormon priesthood became politically untenable, the LDS church denounced them: New revelations indicated God had changed his mind. Mormons’ talent for careful planning and flexible strategy has contributed to the rapid growth of their church around the globe and the expanding influence of Mormons in the corridors of Washington and the business world.
This is not to say that Mormons are opportunists. On the contrary, they tend to be stalwart defenders of conservative social values and American exceptionalism. After all, the LDS church teaches that Jesus Christ appeared in America, that the true faith was restored in upstate New York when Smith uncovered the golden plates, that the Garden of Eden was in present-day Missouri — as is the site of Christ’s future Second Coming. It’s no wonder that Leo Tolstoy saw in Mormons the quintessential “American religion.” Today, popular culture stereotypes Mormons as teetotalers proud of their enormous families and patriotism. Rumor has it that the CIA and FBI treat the Mormon faith as a de facto background check and recruit more heavily on the campus of Brigham Young University than almost anywhere else.
Yet while America plays a prominent role in Mormon theology and history, Mormons have always been missionaries with no intention of stopping at any border. Over the past century and a half, the LDS church has become one of the most international organizations in the world. The church claims about 14 million members worldwide, more than half of whom live outside the United States. Of the 25 announced locations for new Mormon temples, 14 are abroad (most in Latin America). The church is increasingly non-American and nonwhite. That global missionary ethos has implications for how a Mormon president — especially ex-missionaries like Romney (France) and Huntsman (Taiwan) — would view foreign affairs.
Missions demand a paradoxical combination of ideological commitment and pragmatic flexibility. The two years (or, in the case of female missionaries, 18 months) that young Mormons are urged to devote to full-time mission work often send them overseas and leave them not only fluent in new languages and charged with a saintly esprit de corps, but sensitive to the challenges of communicating in a culture different from their own. Successful missionaries in any religion are nothing if not farsighted and practical: They are inured to doors slammed in their faces and realistic about the compromises and adjustable expectations that their work requires. Romney, for example, learned to put aside his church’s disapproval of alcohol and approach patrons in French bars.
Experiences like these teach Mormons to temper the American exceptionalism inherent to their theology. Neither faith nor patriotism stopped the church-owned newspaper, Utah’s Deseret News, from recently bucking the region’s nativist tendencies by protesting growing hostility toward illegal immigrants (it so happens that those immigrants are a growing Mormon constituency). A similar streak of apolitical pragmatism — and, it must be said, human compassion — marked Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor: He defied ideological taboos by pioneering a model for government-mandated universal healthcare. Huntsman, for his part, accepted an ambassadorial nomination from a Democratic White House, presumably because he was more interested in representing American interests in China than in toeing a strict party line.
But these candidates’ preference for pragmatism over politics seems to cut little ice with the Republican faithful. Many evangelical Christians, in particular, view the Mormon faith as a non-Christian cult. When Romney first ran for the country’s highest office four years ago, he tried to quiet rumors that a Mormon president would be the puppet of the church hierarchy in Salt Lake City or that a Mormon is too “weird” to be president. “We share a common creed of moral convictions,” he told an audience at Texas A&M University. (Never mind that shared morals do not mean shared doctrine: Yes, the LDS church seems to focus more on outward obedience than on theological details, but the faith’s fundamental tenets include some very distinctive ideas. For starters, Smith taught that God is an “exalted man” of flesh and bone and that humans themselves can ascend to godhood, while the Book of Mormon describes Christ’s visit to the Americas after his resurrection — notions that would make most Christians blanch.)
Given the lingering suspicions of such a core Republican constituency, it should come as no surprise that Romney has given his 2012 campaign, including his foreign policy, a partisan makeover. His hawkish manifesto, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, opens with an epigraph from Dwight Eisenhower, but the main tone of the prose is pure Ronald Reagan: Romney calls the Gipper “brilliant” and declares that “history proved Reagan right,” an exemplar that the next president ought to bear in mind if America is to remain “the leading nation in the world.” (The LDS church, incidentally, considers Reagan a “true friend”: His administration employed at least 14 Mormons in prominent roles.)
No Apology tries to dispel the notion that Romney is a technocrat without the guts to defend America’s superpower clout (though, with graphs of home prices and test scores, the book hardly hides his wonkishness under a bushel). He writes that unless Washington reverses the country’s economic downturn and ramps up defense spending and war on fundamentalist Islam, America faces a terrifying fate: “I suspect the United States will become the France of the twenty-first century — still a great country, but no longer the world’s leading nation.” The thought of middling-power status and Gallic godlessness may give Romney a special fright: During the late 1960s, he served as a missionary in France, where student riots and Sartre-style atheism may have hardened his conservative views.
None of this is to say that Romney won’t follow through on his pledges to expand America’s armed forces if he is elected. However, his current foreign-policy fulminations are probably as much an effort to find daylight between himself and Barack Obama as they are a reliable indication that he would pursue another round of ill-conceived, George W. Bush-style wars of ideology. Likewise, Huntsman may warn that U.S. troops are “deployed in some quarters in this world where we don’t need to be,” but his criticisms of mission creep in Afghanistan and military action in Libya are unlikely to translate into a White House staffed with America-firsters.
In the end, however, the main problem facing 2012′s Mormon candidates is not mainstream America’s suspicion of their faith, but the fact that ideology has increasingly polarized voters — and voters seem to enjoy the rancor. Detailed PowerPoint presentations rarely win primaries. And in these dark days of economic woe, when Americans are feeling impatient and desperate, voters are especially liable to be attracted to heated, rather than sober, arguments. Americans may simply be too committed to the religions of red and blue to heed the gospel of pragmatism.
By: Molly Worthen, Foreign Policy, June 13, 2011