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The Mouse that Roared--Update

Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy speech Monday at the Virginia Military Institute. Sounded grand and grandiose, but careful reading shows a hodge-podge of nit-picking criticisms--a squeak rather than the roar that must have been intended.Candidate Romney opens with and returns several times to the Libya attack that killed Ambassador Stevens and three others. He lays this tragedy at the feet of the Administration for initially attributing the attack to an anti-Muslim video rather than the militia-terrorists that are now said to be responsible. Security negligence? A PR mistake? Uncertainty in midst of attack? Romney will have none of that.By Romney's lights, Obama has failed in too many ways to count: Fails to support our ally Turkey, to rescue the Syrian people, to have a trade policy for the Middle East, etc. Oh yes, we need a larger Navy and should have left troops in Iraq. Then there's Russia and China, etc. All failing policies that Romney attributes to Obama as if George W. Bush never existed. In a Romney Administration there will be no space between the U.S. and Israel (not of the kind Obama has created by not going to war against Iran). And oh yes, Romney will work to bring about the two-state solution and peace for Israelis and Palestinians (that's a pretty big space when it comes to the Netanyahu government).Does Romney know what he's talking about? Or was this simply a cut and paste operation. Speech here.VMI, The Virginia Military Institute, is probably terra incognita to must of us, but Pat Lang is a graduate. There is an interesting discussion on his blog about the setting, the cadets, their dress, etc., i.e., the atmospheric of Romney's speech. Many of those commenting are not Obama fans, apparently they are not Romney fans either. Here.UPDATE:Here is David Ignatius on the Romney speech; judicious but critical.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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If peace is "a big space" away due to Netanyahu, it is a universe away because of Gaza, whose official, unofficial, current and future solution to the conflict is a no-state solution, the elimination of Israel. And as for the West Bank, it is the West Bank's leader, Abbas -- and not Netanyahu -- who refuses to enter into peace negotiations.

What Mr. Romney said about foreign policy reminds me of what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland. In his best moment, Mr. Romney promised that when he is elected he will do about Iran what President Obama already is doing that he thinks Mr. Obama isn't. At his worst, he invoked Gen. George C. Marshall as if he has anything in common with that statesman. (And he didn't even notice how condescending the Churchill quote he grabbed was.) A man who selflessly served his country in war and peace being invoked by a man who served only himself up to now and wants to be president so he can serve his friends. Ugh.

It appears that those who favor the president's reelection are prepared to pull out all the stops in depicting Mr. Romney as an air headed cipher. I thought his remarks on foreign policy were cogent and persuasive. But I live way out in Oklahoma where we have a different flavor Koolaid.

Mr. Feehily, if you are talking about me, sorry. I don't have a dog in this fight. My annoyance is at the way your dog invoked a great American.

Oklahoma!!! Hadn't thought of "air-headed cipher"! Maybe air-headed is too strong, but cipher seems accurate. Given Romney's known foreign policy advisers, I conclude that much of what he had to say is empty rhetoric--attacking Obama but more or less mouthing similar policies. Wait till he's elected and a Bolton or Kagan or Abrams or younger Cheney is put in charge, then we'll know how cogent this speech was.

Romney's naive enthusiasm for sending others (some in front of him as he spoke) off to fight for his sound bites reminds me of one of the the most important books I know about warfare, Fred Ikle's Every War Must End (Columbia University Press, 1971, 1991, 2005), available at Amazon. Starting from the obvious fact of the title, Ikle draws on history to teach the importance of clearly understanding how one proposes to bring about a military victory leading to a desired political result _before_ launching into a war, whatever the motivations for starting may be. Colin Powell noted the utility of Ikle's thinking in carrying out the first Iraq war. For 40 years after the WW II era, the predominant concept of war was horrendous but, at the most abstract level, relatively simple with the exception of VietNam. For the last two decades, the spectrum of modern war and its very diverse and very complicated offshoots has presented challenges that beg for useful understanding and guidance at the abstract level. Romney doesn't seem to understand the problem, much less a solution.

Fact check: The morning after the Libyan attack that killed the American ambassador, President Obama said publicly the evidence indicated the attack was NOT related to the protests over the anti-Muslim movie currently being protested all over the Middle East, including in front of the US embassy in Cairo. He said an investigation had begun looking into evidence that an Al Qaeda-type organization had launched the attack. Yet Mitt Romney ignored all that and accused the Administration of "apologizing" to terrorists because its Cairo embassy had put out a press release just before its own buildings had been attacked noting that the anti-Muslim movie so many in the Middle East were angry about did not represent the views of the American government. His point seemed to be that by acting diplomatic, Obama's diplomats had encouraged terrorists to commit terror. Whatever you think of his criticism, it was Romney, not Obama, who linked the the protests against the movie in Cairo and the killing of the ambassador in Libya.

Chris Dickey, on Romney's speech:

When Mitt Romney gave his defining speech on foreign policy Monday, he showed he had a magnificent sense of historys drama and almost no clue about its realities. But maybe thats what passes for vision these days: using a simulacrum of the past to cobble together a fantasy about the present and the future.The most striking and heartfelt theme, threaded all the way through the address in various guises, was a passionate longing for what are remembered as the glory days of the Cold War. Romney worked hard to turn the problems of the Middle East into a struggle against darkness, a matter of democracy and despotism. In this view, no politics are local, all is subsumed in a clash of civilizations. And for good measure Romney evidently longs to bring back the Russians as the Evil (if truncated and largely toothless) Empire. Hes going to build missile defenses no matter what old Vladimir Putin says about it. And, by the way, Romney says hes going to build 15 new warships every year to keep such non-superpowers at bay.Ah, for the days when the world was divided into good guys and bad guys, and we were not only good, we were great! And the bad guys lost and well, never mind what happened after that.

The quote gene palumbo provides (10/11 12:51am) is apt and should raise concerns. Two missing pieces in the speech: Romney confidently assumes others would be persuaded to contribute when he calls on them. He specifically "will call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong". While I consider NATO to have been a modern man-made miracle, Romney's optimism is unwarranted without an explicit, forward-looking understanding of the enormous economic turmoil taking place in Europe and the strategic consequences for those nations and, indirectly, for notions of future US leadership. A second omission, potentially more significant, was cyberwarfare, a recognized new form of warfare with major strategic implications because of the forms of threat and the nature of the battlefield. The US is addressing it. I find no awareness of it in Romney's speech.

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