Romney's Neocon Foreign-Policy Clichés

Couldn't the GOP presidential candidate do better than spout abstractions?

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Mitt Romney waves as he arrives onstage to accept the Republican nomination for president. (Reuters)

Mitt Romney delivered some effective lines in his acceptance speech Thursday night. But "effective" isn't the same as "non-stupid". For example:

Romney said President Obama had begun his presidency with "an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators."

It's true: In the last decade alone America has twice intervened forcefully to free nations from dictators--in Iraq and in Libya. But since the Libyan intervention came at the direction of President Obama, I don't think he needs any reminders that things like this have happened. And when you compare that episode to the Iraq intervention--which came on a Republican president's watch, and which Obama opposed--it's kind of amazing that Romney brought up this subject at all.

A quick reminder: The Iraq War generated at least 100,000 dead people, including thousands of American soldiers, and dragged on for years, during which Iraq became a breeding ground for anti-American jihadists and a potent ingredient in the incitement of homegrown American terrorists, including Major Nidal Hasan, who succeeded in killing 13 Americans on American soil. And as for the liberation-from-dictators part: the war led ultimately to an Iraqi regime with such thuggish tendencies that it's unclear whether the country has been lastingly freed from a dictator.

And here's the kicker: this regime, unlike the regime it replaced, is a valuble ally of Iran--something you'd think would bother Romney, given his frequent complaint, repeated Thursday night, that President Obama has "failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat" (which is nonsense, even if you believe Obama should have impeded Iran's nuclear program even more than he has via stuxnet, boatloads of sanctions, etc.)

Speaking of Iran: Though America has indeed freed some countries from dictators, it has also helped impose dictators on countries. In 1953 America sponsored the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran. That's why, 26 years later, there was a dictator for Islamist revolutionaries to overthrow--and why, after the revolution, America wasn't very popular among the revolutionaries.

America has since sponsored other anti-democratic coups, and has also backed such unsavory actors as right-wing Latin American death squads. In fact, though Obama of course wouldn't agree that he conducted an "apology tour," there really are some things for America to apologize for--especially if you agree with Mitt Romney that America should promote democracy and squelch dictators, not the other way around.

I realize convention speeches aren't the place for think-tank-worthy critiques of an incumbent's foreign policy. But couldn't Romney do better than spout neocon abstractions that, when fleshed out, don't make any sense? He's so allergic to concrete specificity that he didn't even mention the war America is currently involved in! (Reminder to Mitt: That would be Afghanistan--and it's another example of a dictator-removing war launched by a Republican president that, um, hasn't gone exactly as planned.)

So convention watchers were left to wonder which high-profile convention speaker who did mention Afghanistan we should take as a Romney spokesperson--raving lunatic John McCain, who apparently wants to stay in Afghanistan forever, or doddering eccentric Clint Eastwood, who apparently wants to leave Afghanistan tomorrow? I'm more of an Eastwood guy myself. I doubt Romney even knows what sort of a guy he is. And I don't want to find out in real time.

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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