Is Mitt Romney's Hawkish, 'Hard Line' Foreign Policy New?

Ben Smith’s article this morning at Politico is a mixed bag. Smith argues that Mitt Romney has made a major shift in his foreign policy views. His evidence? Romney now disagrees with one of his 2008 advisers and has John Bolton’s approval:


Romney’s shift can be seen in the identity of the people from whom he now takes foreign policy advice.

In his unsuccessful primary campaign against McCain in 2008, his chief adviser was Mitchell Reiss, a seasoned Republican diplomat and academic with a reputation as a steady, Establishment hand. But Romney, on the debate stage in South Carolina Monday, responded to a question from moderator Bret Baier by repudiating Reiss’s suggestion that the U.S. should negotiate with the Taliban.

“We should not negotiate with the Taliban,” Romney replied. “We should defeat the Taliban.”

And his newest, highest-profile foreign policy enforcer is the mustachioed face of unilateral American clarity and unambiguous strength, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.

“John’s wisdom, clarity and courage are qualities that should typify our foreign policy,” Romney said in accepting Bolton’s endorsement last week.

The shift has been noted in Republican policy circles, though where it leads — particularly in Afghanistan, where Romney has said he’ll listen to the generals on the ground but has not rolled out a plan of his own — remains unclear.


Pretty weak tea. But that’s what happens when commentators insist on thinking ideology-first. (A problem among conservative commentators too.) Look at how Smith frames his narrative at the beginning:

Romney’s shift – from the GOP’s Condoleezza Rice wing to its Dick Cheney wing — comes as voters have shown little inclination for more American engagement abroad, many of his rivals have flirted with isolationism, and one of them, Rep. Ron Paul, has won unmistakable traction by calling for an end to American foreign aid.

There are Rice and Cheney “wings” of the Republican party? More like these are two mental caricatures through which media Democrats filter all conservative foreign policy thought so they don’t have to take it seriously. In the imagination of the MSNBC-watching, good progressive, the GOP/conservative foreign policy debate is comprised solely of:

1. Sensible, sane Arabist academics who think Islam means peace. (The alleged Rice wing.)

2. Psychotic, Unhinged warmonger fascist racist imperialists who enjoy murdering little brown people, waterboarding and torturing everyone named Mohammed, and monitoring all of your phone calls. (The imaginary Cheney/Bolton wing.)


3. Greedy oil billionaires and defense contractors eager to engage in war profiteering. (The Enron and Halliburton Wing.)

4. The Israel Lobby (this conspiracy actually exists and goes by the real names of “63% of the American people” including 57% of Democrats and 49% of so-called liberals.)

5. Christian Zionists who want to start a war with Iran to bring about the Rapture. (And scariest of all, the Jerry Falwell wing!)

6. The principled, honest Ron Paul Libertarians. (The MSNBC wing.)

Any other caricatures? I’m sure I’ve forgotten several important ones regularly employed by mainstream media analysts to warp the conservative movement into the mad hatter’s tea party.


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