So as he tries to nail down the GOP presidential nomination with victories in ten states today, Team Romney pulled the trigger on a WaPo op-ed on the foreign policy issue most discussed on the campaign trail, Iran.
Whatever you think of it as an analysis of the Middle East or of nonproliferation policy or of U.S. foreign policy generally (comparing it to Paul Pillar’s new Washington Monthly piece on U.S.-Iran relations is kind of like comparing a comic book to a college text), it certainly hits the right political notes for the audience he cares about most, conservative “base” voters.
It opens with the perfect analogy from Romney’s point of view: Jimmy Carter, cowering in the White House, wringing his hands in impotent frustration at the taking of U.S. hostages by Islamic fanatics. This crisis, says Mitt’s ghostwriter, was instantly dispelled by the election of Ronald Reagan, whose strength and courage terrified the mullahs into ending their cruel game.
And so, the op-ed says, we are in a “strikingly similar situation” today: same Islamic fanatics, same liberal wusses in the White House, same need for a real man to resolve the crisis with a steely glance, some nuclear brinkmanship, and maybe a few trillion dollars in otherwise useless new defense spending.
The need for Romney to identify with Reagan is so strong that the op-ed not only insists today’s Iranian regime is “the same Islamic fanatics” that Ronnie stared down, but identifies Iran with the Cold War Era Soviet Union as well. Thus, just as Reagan won the Cold War by pushing for his Strategic Defense Initiative, Mitt will face down the equally threatening Iranian and North Korean regimes with a new ballistic missile system, that much-derided sugar plum fairy of defense contractors.
Most of all, President Romney will be tough like Reagan, getting right into grills of those bearded Islamic Fanatics by an early trip to Jersusalem, support for an Iranian insurgency, and most of all, demands for a build-down of the Iranian nuclear program backed by a credible threat of war.
If this all sounds a bit like foreign policy as it would be conducted by a seventeen-year-old boy with an addiction to energy drinks, that is almost certainly intentional. If the chronic liberal vice in foreign policy is excessive faith in international organizations, the chronic conservative vice is the belief that America must perpetually prove its willingness to kill instantly and remoselessly. Romney’s handlers want to make sure conservatives are reassured he fully shares that vice.
Let us profoundly hope that this and earlier expressions of Romney’s foreign policy views are as insincere as what he has said about his own past domestic policy positions. Yes, it’s tiresome and a bit alarming to have to wish that a major-party presidential candidate is routinely lying through his teeth to the very people he calls his supporters. But in the case of foreign policy, there are contingencies much worse than presidential mendacity. There are ruinous and unnecessary wars of the kind that Romney very much wants primary voters to think he is eager to wage the minute he’s in Ronnie’s shoes.