A large majority of Americans agree that President Barack Obama has a strong record protecting our nation’s security and that he has the right vision for American leadership in the world. Mitt Romney’s proposals, in contrast, promise to return us to the discredited doctrines and reckless policies of the George W. Bush administration. We’ve seen that movie before, and it doesn’t end well.
That is why it’s particularly worrisome that last week, Romney attended a GOP fundraiser hosted by former Vice President Dick Cheney at his home in Wyoming. It’s fitting, really, since Romney has called Cheney a “person of wisdom and judgment.”
As Romney considers possible running mates, it’s worth remembering that he pointed to Dick Cheney as the “kind of person I’d like to have” working with him. Likewise, the policies that Romney has advocated – like indefinitely leaving our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example – are continuations of the Bush-Cheney doctrine, version 2.0.
It’s no secret that Cheney was the driving force behind the Bush administration’s failed foreign policies: starting the war in Iraq with no plan to finish it, bullying our allies around the world, and watching while Iran and North Korea moved forward with their nuclear programs because the Bush White House couldn’t bring the international community together to confront these threats.
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Out of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration. If Romney were to win, it’s likely that many of these people would serve in his administration in some capacity – a frightening prospect given the legacy of this particular group. The last time they were in government, it was disastrous.
For example, one of Romney’s top surrogates on the campaign trail is John Bolton, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton embodies the reckless neoconservative thinking that was largely responsible for getting us into Iraq under false pretenses. Today, he openly roots for diplomacy with Iran to fail and is all-too-eager to send our men and women in uniform into war. Last year, for instance, Bolton said that, “It would be in our interest to overthrow this regime in Syria.”
The idea of Bolton and other Bush-Cheney officials serving in a Romney administration should be a scary prospect for all Americans.
Critics might object that employing former Bush staffers does not necessarily mean implementing all of their advice. But voters can only judge candidates by what they say they will do if in office, and the recklessness of Dick Cheney is clearly reflected in the foreign policies that Romney has advocated so far on the campaign trail.
Romney supported the invasion of Iraq and opposed ending the war last year. In December, as Obama welcomed home our troops from Iraq after almost nine years of conflict, Romney said, “It is my view that the withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq is unfortunate. It’s more than unfortunate, I think it’s tragic.” Cheney echoed that sentiment, saying a few months before we ended the war in Iraq that “it would be a real tragedy if we leave too soon before they are ready to fend for themselves.”
On Afghanistan, though Obama and all of our international coalition partners have agreed on a timetable to transfer all security responsibility to Afghan control by the end of 2014, Romney contends that we should stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, with no strategy behind his rhetoric and no plan to bring troops home. Again, Cheney has said that we don’t “need to run for the exits” in Afghanistan.
And Romney, like Cheney, remains stuck in a Cold War mentality. Romney has called Russia our “number one geopolitical foe” – an outlandish statement that stunned foreign policy experts across the political spectrum.
When former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served under Bush, was asked about Romney’s comments, he replied, “C’mon, Mitt, think. That isn’t the case.” Romney’s rhetoric toward Moscow has the ring of comments Cheney made in 2008, asserting that Russia posed a “threat of tyranny, economic blackmail and military invasion” to its neighbor, Ukraine.
Obama has demonstrated that he is a strong and coherent leader on foreign policy issues. He kept his promise to end the war in Iraq responsibly. He refocused our efforts on crushing al-Qaida and ordered the bold raid to take out Osama bin Laden. He has repaired our alliances abroad and led the international community in putting the most crippling sanctions on Iran in history. During his tenure, he has also provided more security funding to Israel than any of his predecessors and always stood up for our friend in the international community.
A Romney presidency promises to take us back to something all too familiar: a Bush-Cheney doctrine – equal parts naive and cavalier – which eagerly embraces military force without fully considering the consequences.
That “attack now and figure it out later” mindset had disastrous consequences for our country. We can’t afford to go back to the failed policies of the past, not when we’ve come so far and had so much success. America’s security depends on moving forward to confront the threats of the future. That’s what’s at stake in this election.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, represents Washington’s 9th Congressional District. He wrote this for Foreign Policy.