Mitt Romney is increasingly inserting himself into national affairs. That may be because he’s running for president, or it may simply be that he’s just positioning himself as the GOP’s éminence grise, laying its policy groundwork for 2016.
Last Thursday’s Washington Post featured Romney’s latest, an oped laying out a devastating appraisal of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.“Russia invades, China bullies, Iran spins centrifuges, the Islamic State threatens — and Washington slashes the military,” Romney writes.“Reason stares.”
But it’s not just fear from those threats that worries Romney. He also argues that worldwide disorder is mounting precisely because the United States no longer seems to want to be the world’s policeman. He mocks President Obama’s hope for a “new order . . . based on a sense of common humanity,” observing that “humanity is far from common in values and views.” He dismisses talk of a multi-polar world (“with emerging poles being China, Russia, and Iran, the world would not see peace”) or U.S. isolationism or arguments that the world today is safer than ever before. His rebuttal to that last point is a simple litany: “Ukraine, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, and Iraq.”
After his loss to Obama in 2012, Romney — unloved by his own party — seemed he would make like MacArthur’s soldier and “just fade away.” In retrospect, though, he began to look better, prompting many to push him forward as a future nominee. Some of that came about because, with the possible exception of Jeb Bush, many in the GOP don’t see any other Republicans with the stature to take on Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ expected nominee.
At first, Romney’s protests against another run were vociferous (“No, no, no, no”). Of late they’ve been more equivocal. “Circumstances can change,” he admitted to radio interviewer Hugh Hewitt in late August.
Whether he’s running or not, Romney lays out in his oped a comprehensive conception of American power and America’s place in the world. If international issues two years from now are as messy as they are today, Romney’s arguments could become the basis for a presidential run by him or another GOP candidate — one that might have great appeal to folks appalled by the sudden upwelling of conflict and lawlessness around the globe. (Romney’s full-throated defense of American engagement with the world is also a direct riposte to some isolationist members of his own party, such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who — with the rise of ISIS — is now hastily claiming he really isn’t an isolationist after all.)
Romney’s worldview isn’t something new. Much of the same argument could be found in his 2010 campaign book, No Apology. Indeed, in light of today’s turmoil, Romney is looking almost prophetic.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has slowly been creating daylight between herself and Obama’s foreign policy. That’s been the subject of much chatter. To many, it seems the kind of calculated political maneuvering — flip-flopping — that once earned Romney much scorn. But Clinton has always been different from Obama. During her four years as secretary of state, she was careful to appear loyal.
Yet her most frequent ally in the administration was Robert Gates, the secretary of defense held over from George W. Bush’s last term. In his memoir, Gates recounts numerous incidents where it was him and Clinton against the rest of Obama’s White House team.
When discussions focused on a possible surge in Afghanistan, for instance, Gates writes that he and Clinton “were the outsiders in the session.” Gates and Clinton talked frequently, usually conferring before White House meetings so that they were on the same page. Yes, Clinton (like Obama) is also a fan of soft power — building relationships — but she insists too on the unique and singular role of America in managing world affairs.
All of Romney’s critiques can be debated, of course, and it may well be that, by the time 2016 rolls around, things will have settled down internationally and domestic troubles will occupy our attention. Still, it’s possible at this point to see a presidential campaign preoccupied with global issues, one that features Romney — or a candidate voicing his thoughts — versus a Democrat who largely agrees but finds herself burdened by the previous eight years.
Tom Keane can be reached at email@example.com.
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