Towards the end of a grumpy preview of tonight’s debate as likely to be “vacuous,” TAP’s Paul Waldman mentions a historical precedent for Mitt Romney’s overwhelming emphasis on the Importance of Looking Tough and Resolute–not just as a candidate, but as a prescription for National Greatness:

Twenty-eight years ago Tuesday, a truck filled with explosives drove into a compound in Beirut housing troops sent to keep the peace in a country almost destroyed by invasion and civil war. The ensuring explosion destroyed the Marine barracks, killing 241 American servicemen. Within a few months, President Ronald Reagan had withdrawn all American troops from the country. But that move, which today’s Republicans would no doubt consider an appalling act of weakness, was overshadowed by events elsewhere. Two days after the Marine barracks bombing, the invasion of the tiny island nation of Grenada began. Hilariously code-named Operation Urgent Fury (they might as well have called it Operation Desperate Overcompensation), this was the kind of military action Reagan could get behind, and Mitt Romney no doubt yearns for. Token resistance from a few dirty commies, no backlash against American interests elsewhere, and altogether it made for a clean and satisfying little war.

Actually, while Waldman remembers the Granada invasion as an overcompensation for the Beirut disaster, I recall it as having even grander pretensions: it was supposed, according to many conservative theoreticians (not least of them Newt Gingrich), to begin the process of ridding the United States of the “Vietnam Syndrome,” a dangerous antipathy to stupid, endless wars. The Grenadan antidote was designed to show that war could be easy, painless, fun, and even glorious!

Alas for “resolution” freaks like Romney, the Grenadan option is probably off the table:

But there are no more Grenadas. We don’t invade the countries of our Spanish-speaking neighbors to the south anymore, secure in the knowledge that the Monroe Doctrine lives on and no one will much care what we do in “our” hemisphere. These days, every spot we might consider projecting our awesome machine of war comes with all kinds of messy complications. As a candidate, Mitt Romney pretends that being “strong” and “resolute” solves every problem and makes every situation simple and straightforward. I doubt he believes it, and it would help to know what he believes. But we probably won’t get the chance before November 6.

This is another way of saying that if Romney believes half of what he has been consistently saying for years now, as president he may well face the alternatives of self-humiliation (not that he’s ever had compunctions about reversing himself and then denying it) and, well, waging stupid, endless wars. The Obama administration has shown it’s possible to quietly do horribly damaging things, both to adversaries and to bystanders, through the use of drones. It’s unlikely that would be showy enough for Mitt, who seems to favor a security strategy of speaking very loudly and then thrashing about wildly with the first stick that comes to hand.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.