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