By Bob Cesca: Anyone who believed Mitt Romney's shape-shifting performance as "Peacenik Mitt" on Monday night is an amnesic, naive doofus. As we all know by now, Romney will do and say whatever is necessary to make it through the day. This is his strategy. By now, the Republicans, like the monochromatic lockstep Borg hive they are, will vote for Romney no matter what he says. This liberates Romney to take the form of Sergeant Slaughter one day, then [insert the Transformers switcheroo sound effect here] to the left Code Pink the next day.
However, in reviewing the debate it's clear that he wasn't entirely Peacenik Mitt throughout. If you look closely, Romney's real motives for war made a few subtle appearances.
First, during the debate, we heard statements like this about fighting extremism in the Middle East: "But we can’t kill our way out of this mess." Peacenik Mitt. Has anyone seen Dennis Kucinich and Mitt Romney in the same room together? Hmm.
Then there was the following about-face minutes later: "Well, my strategy’s 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."
I'm sure Romney meant to say disrupt them and not "interrupt them," which is what Romney typically does to debate moderators. So to what extent will Romney go in his effort to get "the bad guys?" What will he do to interrupt and kill them? And by "them," is he talking about Palestinians who, in the 47 Percent video, Romney said aren't willing to negotiate a peaceful solution with Israel? What about Assaad and the Syrian military? Is he talking about Iran? North Korea (which wasn't mentioned at all last night for some reason)? If it's any of these flashpoint states, such action would require more than drones and a few sorties. We're talking about ground wars not unlike Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps far worse if Russia drops in on the side of Syria and China drops in on the side of Iran.
Yet, seconds later, Romney said, "We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan."
That's peculiar because while Romney has, in fact, supported the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, he has always pledged to leave American soldiers behind as a "residual force," while reserving the prerogative to entirely change his mind. Knowing how Romney changes his mind more often than he changes his Dad jeans, I think we can expect the worst on that front.
As for Iraq, the president was exactly right during the third debate. Romney, in his major foreign policy speech just over two weeks ago, Mitt Romney said, "In Iraq, the costly gains made by our troops are being eroded by rising violence, a resurgent Al-Qaeda, the weakening of democracy in Baghdad, and the rising influence of Iran. And yet, America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence."
It's difficult to be more explicit than that. He supports maintaining our influence in Iraq with the use of American footsoldiers. In Iraq. Even though he said he didn't want another Iraq.
The president reminded Romney about the Iraq section of his speech, "This is just a few weeks ago that you indicated that we should still have troops in Iraq."
Romney snapped back, "No, I didn’t." Lie.
Reading remarks like his Iraq statement would be shocking were it not for the fact that 15 of Romney's 22 foreign policy advisers are ex-Bush administration neoconservative war hawks. Six of those advisers are former members of the defunct Project for a New American Century (PNAC): the thinktank that had lobbied for another incursion into Iraq since the early 1990s. You might recognize some names from the rogues gallery: former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden, Cofer Black, Dan Senor and former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. Knowing he didn't want to repeat his father's mistake of running for re-election without the advantage of being a war president, the neocons had a receptive and ready partner in the Oval Office. And because Bush had little experience in this arena, he deferred to these hawks on just about everything. Just the way they wanted it. And so they puppeteered Bush into two concurrent wars, costing trillions of dollars in deficit spending, thousands of American lives and scores of Iraqi and Afghan lives.
Much like Richard Nixon, who ran on a peace agenda and a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam then subsequently bombed Cambodia and Laos into the stone age, it's worth noting that Bush ran as a peace-loving compassionate conservative as well. Later, in a televised prime time address to the nation, Bush, as president, said about the Middle East, "The United States with other countries will work to advance liberty and peace in that region." In this same address, he used the word "peace" or a variation of "peace," such as "peaceful," 12 times. This speech was deliverd on March 17, 2003, two days before Bush ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Another foreign policy neophyte has surrounded himself with the same cabal of master manipulators driven by a singular goal: to commit the world's most powerful and sophisticated arsenal to tame the Muslim world. And, like Bush, he's couching it in the cuddly fuzzy terms of "peace." During Monday's debate, Romney said something very similar Bush's pre-Iraq line, "Let me — let me step back and talk about what I think our mission has to be in the Middle East, and even more broadly, because our purpose is to make sure the world is more — is peaceful. We want a peaceful planet." Again, this line popped up within minutes of talking about killing "the bad guys" and taking them "out of the picture."
First on the hit list will invariably be Iran, of course, where the neocons left off with Bush. Romney has repeatedly accused Iran of not responding to sanctions or other peaceful means of coercion, so the only alternative left would be an invasion and he's hired the perfect architects for the job of manufacturing yet another endless war on that continent.
To Bush's credit, he refused to capitulate to arm-twisting, full-court pressure from Dick Cheney and the neocons to attack Iran. They'll definitely have a better shot with Romney. Hopefully they'll never get that shot.