A few months ago, Mitt Romney expressed outrage over the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Yesterday, after the Pentagon said the U.S. would withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan next year – ahead of schedule – the former governor was incensed all over again.
“The president’s mistakes, some of them are calculated based on a philosophy that’s hard to understand. Some you just scratch your head and say, how can you be so misguided and so naive? Today, his Secretary of Defense unleashed such a policy. His Secretary of Defense said that on a date certain, the middle of 2013, we are going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan. He announced that. He announced that so the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it. Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the day that you’re pulling out your troops?”
First, “the middle of 2013” is not “a date certain.” Second, Romney failed to explain why a withdrawal target undermines U.S. policy in Afghanistan in any way. [Update: Jay Bookman added, “Romney himself has publicly endorsed a deadline of 2014 for the withdrawal of almost all NATO military forces, including Americans, from Afghanistan. To borrow his language, Romney announced that support ‘so the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it.’ So I’m not sure exactly what his argument is, other than to make meaningless noise on the campaign trail and try to pump himself up as a strong-willed military leader.”]
And third, if Romney is going to pretend to have credibility on national security and foreign policy, he’s going to have to do better than calls for indefinite wars. The guy’s experience in international affairs is limited to Swiss bank accounts and stashing cash in the Caymans, and his efforts to overcome this deficiency in his resume aren’t going over well.
Worse, Romney has struggled in this area for quite some time.
Remember the time Romney told ABC News he would “set a deadline for bringing the troops home” from Iraq – but only if it’s a secret deadline? How about the time Romney, more than four years into the war in Iraq, said it’s “entirely possible” that Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria prior to the 2003 invasion? Or the time Romney pretended “Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood” were all the same thing? How about my personal favorite: the time Romney made the bizarre assertion that IAEA weapons inspectors were not allowed entry into Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?
More recently, Romney tried to trash the New START nuclear treaty in an op-ed, prompting Fred Kaplan to respond, “In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and – let’s not mince words – thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty.”
He’s even picked a fight over President Obama’s strike on Osama bin Laden, ignoring the fact that Romney took an entirely passive attitude towards the al Qaeda leader, saying “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth” to get the terrorist responsible for 9/11. Around the same time, Romney said he would not order a strike into Pakistan to get bin Laden, rejecting Obama’s willingness “to enter an ally of ours” to target the terrorist leader.
Perhaps Romney should just avoid talking about national security, foreign policy, and international affairs altogether.