Mitt Romney’s unconscionable flip-flop on war and foreign policy

GETTY IMAGES President Obama debates with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as moderator Bob Schieffer listens on Oct. 22, 2012. … Continued

GETTY IMAGES

President Obama debates with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as moderator Bob Schieffer listens on Oct. 22, 2012.

In the third and final presidential debate between President Obama and GOP challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the word “peace” or “peaceful” seven times, including one instance where he used those words three times in the space of two sentences.

But when asked by moderator Bob Schieffer about his “strategy” on foreign policy, Romney defaulted to violence as his first choice and noted “to kill them” [“bad guys”] was his strategy.

It is simply unconscionable to keep saying “peace, peace” when you mean war and the use of force as your first choice.

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace,” lamented the biblical prophet Jeremiah in a different context. (6:14)

Peace, peace, said Romney, but there was no peace actually in evidence.

The use of force, up to and including war-making, is one of the most morally serious undertakings a president, and a nation, can undertake. Lives are lost, lives are ruined, countries are devastated, perhaps for generations, and the risks of escalation to global conflict looms.

But Romney pivoted to peace in this third presidential debate for a different reason, and he even explained why. He said, “Today, war is an election loser.”

This was the most remarkable statement made by Romney during these 90 minutes. He was transparent about the fact that his newly found commitment to the “principles of peace” was “[b]ecause when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don’t vote for war.” That’s as true in domestic elections, as in foreign elections, as Romney well knows because I am sure his pollsters have told him today, war is a loser even for Republicans.

In 2012, a majority of Republicans, polling shows, now oppose the Afghan war and think it was a mistake.

This is the real reason Romney said “peace” or “peaceful” seven times. But it could be seventy-times seven, and it was clear, even within this third presidential debate, that violence, not peace, was Romney’s default.

In a response to a question from the moderator on the changing Middle East, Romney noted “[w]e can’t kill our way out of this mess. But in very the same segment of the debate, he said that “my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to — to kill them, to take them out of the picture.”

Thus, Romney, by your own words your strategy actually is to “kill your way out of this mess.” It takes more than saying the word “peace” to be in favor of the painstaking processes that make for peace. Your advisers on foreign policy are, according to General Colin Powell, “quite far to the right” and include many of the former Bush-Cheney advisers who got the United States into two wars in eight years and exploded the deficit.

The Brookings Institute, staunchly bipartisan in its approaches to foreign policy issues, posted this summary of Romney’s approach to foreign policy, and Iran in particular. “Gratuitous swagger on Iran has long been a part of the Romney repertoire. He has likened the Islamic Republic with the Soviet Union’s ‘evil empire,’ tossing in an analogy to Nazi Germany for good measure.”

Evoking “evil” has long been a staple of Republican bellicosity, as the attack on Iraq was justified, retroactively, because Saddam Hussein showed he was “evil.” That was, of course, only after no “weapons of mass destruction” were found in Iraq.

None of his previous speeches and positions kept Romney from saying, in the third presidential debate, “our purpose is to make sure the world is more — is peaceful. We want a peaceful planet.” And he indicated he, as a President, would be “promoting the principles of peace.”

Unfortunately, Romney followed this triune use of the words for peace by calling for more military spending. Schieffer underlined this by asking, “Governor, you say you want a bigger military. You want a bigger Navy. You don’t want to cut defense spending. What I want to ask you — we were talking about financial problems in this country. Where are you going to get the money?” The governor gave no specifics in reply.

Over and over again, since the time of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have exploded the deficit by grossly inflating military spending and refusing to find ways to pay for it.

Romney showed his plan is more of the same.

Both President Obama referred to just war theory and war as “last resort,” remarking “The disagreement I have with Governor Romney is that, during the course of this campaign, he’s often talked as if we should take premature military action. I think that would be a mistake, because when I’ve sent young men and women into harm’s way, I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort.”

President Obama knows just war theory and just peace theory quite well, as he showed in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I have called this complex combination of approaches the “Obama doctrine.”

So, by contrast, what is the “Romney doctrine?” Romney apparently also subscribes, at least for the purposes of the third presidential debate, to the “Obama doctrine,” as he said, re “Iran,” he would use “peaceful and diplomatic means. Of course, a military action is the last resort.”

Of course. But this is Romney position now, as he stated, taken for the purpose of winning the election. To quote Romney again, “War does not win elections.”

I found Romney’s pivot from “gratuitous swagger” and bellicose language to saying peace and peaceful over and over to be completely unconscionable. Romney’s ability to take any position for political gain is now, for me, evidence of a severe character flaw.

I wish to God “[w]ar does not win elections.” But even that is not always true.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress
.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • bbmonitor

    Romney would do or say ANYTHING to obtain the power of the presidency. I find this disengeneous and frightening. He has NO track record on foreign policy with the exception of job outsourcing at critical time in our nations future. Obama has dug us out of economic crater. Romney can’t even put forward a budget anyone other than a few Republicon operative bloggers say add up. Obama destroyed Romney in this debate. Romney looked constipated whenever Obama was speaking.

  • Eliza Harris

    He didn’t say he was advocating for peace because it polls well; he said he advocated for free elections because free electorates vote for peace. You can speculate that there is a connection between his sudden peace advocacy and his analysis of democracies but he certainly wasn’t “transparent” about it.

  • lookahead

    Of course, conservative doctrine is quite clear that many countries (especially Muslim countries) should not have democracy “too early” precisely because they will vote for a despot who will then ban democracy. The beief is that they will emphatically not vote for peace.

  • undercover_hon

    I enjoyed the repetition of the words “bad guys”. Um, if you can’t be specific about who exactly you view as the nation’s enemies, why should I vote for you for president? I don’t need childish simplifications. It was after 8 p.m. – we adults can handle gruesome details and harsh truths. IF you have them.

  • ohnoyoudidnt1

    Wow.. One only needs to look at PPP’s internal polling from last night’s debate to see who the real winner was..

    In the poll, 47 percent of Independents said they were more likely to vote for Romney after the debate, compared with 35 percent that said they were less likely.

    Independents in this poll seemed to shift from Obama. Only 32 percent said they were more likely to vote for him, compared with 48 percent that said they were less likely.

  • persiflage

    ‘Romney’s ability to take any position for political gain is now, for me, evidence of a severe character flaw.’

    Yes, I’ve been thinking the same thing for awhile now. The smokescreen of money and religion and his party’s nomination have apparently proven to be an effective disguise. Romney thinks nothing of changing his position, evern dramatically, if the occasion calls for it. As one pundit put it, the more Romney changes, the more he sounds like Obama…..exactly.

    Remember Romney’s history of beating up an alleged gay boy in prep school – no doubt an impressive move to his pals. Are we to believe that this kind of behavior doesn’t say something very significant about a person’s character?

    This man’s fundamentally weak character, lack of real conviction and knowledge about how the world works for ordinary people, coupled with an apparently deep streak of narcissism make him a very high risk person in the Whitehouse.

    It’s odd that more voters don’t see this, because nothing could be more obvious. Romney is glib and superficial, but there’s nothing much there of substance. I have to believe that many voters are subliminally hoping for a white savior to return them to the path of national righteousness, and the white American’s rightful place in the sun. This is not something that people will easily recognize in themselves, because there’s a secret guilt and self-recrimination that is a fundamental part of the orientation.

    Conceivably Romney will be magnitudes worse than Bush as president – and the voting public will get exactly what they’ve asked for.

  • Everythings Gravy

    Absolutely amazing America has lost it’s mind to even consider electing
    Romney. He is obviously a very danger individual.

  • hrobert02

    Romney (Mr. Plastic Man) needs to try out for Miss America with all of his “world peace” baloney… and solve world hunger while he is at it.

    The shallowness of this man is breath taking.

  • CivicRepublican

    Give the man the “white feathers” he and his spawn deserve!

  • quiensabe

    My son, Susan, and his friend had to buy an extra paper to carry along the route because Billy would demand they give him one in order to pass his house. This continued until he whipped Billy’s a s s. Now everyone on the street gets their paper and lives in peace.

  • amelia45

    Well done! The guy has no intention of telling anyone what he really thinks. He makes statements here, there, and yonder and they don’t have to agree or be consistent. He makes “pledges”, however, that I think he will keep. Anything else is spin.

    Mitt Romney is a danger to women: mothers, sister, daughters, nieces, grandmothers, aunts, and female cousins of whatever degree of separation you care to consider. He will tell you words you want to hear – but his actions will be in utter disregard to what keeps you healthy, safe, and being treated as fully and equally human.

  • persiflage

    ‘It is simply unconscionable to keep saying “peace, peace” when you mean war and the use of force as your first choice.’

    Yes, but that doesn’t trouble folks that are focused entirely on winning. Real moral conscience only gets in the way when one need to be flexible. The GOP strategy seems to involve tailoring one’s political position in comformity with the audience at hand. You can always implement your ‘real’ policy positions later when the race is won. And therein lies the danger – who is the real Romney?

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