Romney changes his tune
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Unless we have a replay of the Florida/U.S. Supreme Court-tainted 2000 presidential election (may God forbid!) this will be my last column before we know the outcome of the Nov. 6 election. Like many of you I am sure, I will feel a certain sense of relief that it is over. But in these waning days of the campaign I continue to firmly believe that this will be an election of real consequence for this country — and for the world.
By now, this past week’s presidential debate on foreign policy will have been as closely analyzed by the media pundits as the Delphic oracle once examined animal entrails to make prophesies some 3,000 years ago in ancient Greece. There is no record of how accurate her record was, but it can’t be any worse than for most of us pundits. That said, having spent a lifetime reporting international affairs, I feel compelled to look at that last presidential debate and its potential impact on future American foreign policy.
Like many people, I was astonished to discover during the debate that Gov. Mitt Romney had had a conversion seemingly as profound as that experienced by Paul on the road to Damascus. After only the previous week, charging that Obama’s foreign policy was “unraveling before our very eyes,” this is how the “new” Mitt Romney presented himself on key American foreign policy concerns.
On Afghanistan: Having opposed what he ridiculed as Obama’s “political” timetable for American withdrawal of combat forces by the end of 2014 — which he said the Taliban would simply wait out — on Monday evening Romney unconditionally endorsed Obama’s deadline. And having once berated the president for prematurely withdrawing the U.S. troops who were part of the surge of forces initiated by Obama, Romney praised the surge as a success.
On Iran: After having repeatedly criticized Obama for not issuing a credible military threat to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Romney said American efforts should be “through peaceful and diplomatic means.” He admitted Obama’s sanctions were indeed working and called war a last resort. “(War) is something that one would only consider if all other avenues had been tried to their full extent.” This seems to imply that he approves of direct talks between the U.S. and Iran, which he had previously denounced.
On Syria: In his foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute in early October, Romney argued for deeper American involvement, particularly in the form of supplying, directly or indirectly, heavy weapons for the rebels. He mentioned “tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” Monday night he conceded Obama’s concern that such weapons not fall “into the wrong hands.” He also pledged not to get the U.S. militarily involved in Syria.
On Egypt: Mr. Romney had been highly critical of the Obama decision to drop long time American ally President Hosni Mubarak in the face of the massive anti-Mubarak demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. But on debate night, Romney said he too would have called for Mubarak to step down.
On the escalated American use of unmanned drones to kill terrorists wherever they may be, which is controversial even among some Obama supporters, Romney said he supported the program “entirely.” Just to make sure he had touched all bases, Mr. Romney, more or less congratulated the president for getting rid of Osama bin Laden.
Finally, in reference to the turmoil of the Middle East, Romney said, “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.” He then went on to list things such as diplomacy, economic assistance, education and support for democratic institutions, as ways America should pursue its goals in the Middle East. And in case we didn’t get the message, he mentioned at least half a dozen times that his goal for American foreign policy was peace.
It was absolutely breathtaking. Here was a man I had repeatedly criticized for his hard line foreign affairs positions, saying virtually everything I wanted to hear. It suggested a better understanding of the complexities of the issues than I ever gave him credit for. It indicated an open mind for negotiations with adversaries — even with the Iranians — which we are going to have to have if we are to avoid another Middle East over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. So what is wrong with this picture?
As I was watching so many channels and hearing so many commentators after the debate, I do not remember who suggested this, but one analyst said, “It’s as though Senator George McGovern had changed his anti-Vietnam War position two weeks before the 1972 election.”
Just imagine: McGovern with President Richard Nixon before millions of American television viewers. McGovern says, “Mr. President. I think you are absolutely right about Vietnam. The Vietnamese communist leaders can’t be trusted to negotiate a real peace. America has too much invested in this war, and we can’t afford to lose it. So I support you in your efforts to achieve total victory.”
Whatever one thinks of George McGovern, who died at the age of 90 on the day of the last Obama-Romney debate, the very idea that he would ever have done such a thing seems preposterous. McGovern was a principled man, who wanted the war to end, and though he lost in a landslide in 1972, most Americans would soon come to agree with him.
And yet when Mitt Romney jettisons virtually his entire foreign policy in one night, the mainstream media hardly bats an eye. He’s just “pivoting” they say. But overseas, friend and foe will see Romney’s cynical pretext of moderation for what it is — unvarnished political expediency. And I can imagine leaders in China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Israel or even Canada, asking their advisers, how will we deal with an American leader who seems to hold no convictions whatsoever? That uncertainty, should Romney be elected, is most likely to lead to significantly greater international tensions than we face today.
Barrie Dunsmore is a former foreign correspondent for ABC News.