In a 60 Minutes interview this past Sunday, Barack Obama touched upon a topic that, if pursued, could very well hand him an election victory come November.
In response to rival Mitt Romney’s objections against his approach to Syria and Iran, the President responded simply: if, he said, Romney “is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.”
As long as both campaigns remain focused on domestic considerations, chances are good that the Romney family will be moving into the White House at the beginning of next year. Even foreign policy discussions don’t have to be excluded from the Romney agenda—as long as the former Massachusetts governor focuses our attention upon Obama’s failed promises in this arena.
But if Romney insists on promoting his current strategy of depicting Obama as weak and timid with respect to America’s relations with the Middle East, then he supplies the President with a golden opportunity to invoke the specter of George W. Bush’s America.
This is the last thing that any Republican should want.
A Republican that isn’t a neoconservative ideologue will not want for Americans to be reminded of President Bush’s foreign policy. In fact, he will want nothing more than for his compatriots to forget all about Bush’s designs to remake the Islamic world in the image of some democratic ideal.
The problem is that the neoconservative foreign policy that dominated during Bush’s two terms in office isn’t just one policy option among others. It is the cornerstone of neoconservative ideology.
And, in spite of its wild unpopularity with the American electorate, neoconservative ideology remains the ideology of the Republican Party.
So, while Republicans will stop at nothing to compromise on virtually every conceivable issue, they resolutely refuse to compromise on the one issue—foreign policy—that cost them both chambers of Congress in ’06, and the presidency in ’08.
Romney should avoid like the plague the drawing of comparisons between Bush and himself.
There are two reasons for this.
First, the country has had war fatigue since the Bush era. The average American neither understands nor appreciates why his government insists upon deploying his resources in blood and treasure in the Middle East.
It isn’t necessarily that the average American is ignorant of the line that Bush and his supporters have tirelessly pushed in the service of this end. He may very well know all about our last president’s missionary zeal to democratize the Middle East. And he may know equally well that, by Bush and his supporters’ lights, only if such a project comes to fruition can Americans bet on achieving “national security.”
The average American knows what the neoconservatives believe. He just can’t believe that anyone can seriously believe it.
Yet his incredulity gives way to fear once this belief becomes our nation’s foreign policy.
This fear in turn becomes paralyzing at the thought that this foreign policy should be resurrected with a vengeance in the event of a Romney victory.
The second reason that Romney should emphatically disavow all comparisons between himself and the neoconservative Bush is a bit more theoretical. Still, theory intersects straight through practical politics on this score.
Simply put, both morally and intellectually, there is a glaring inconsistency between calls for a more “limited” government, on the one hand, and, on the other, a more robust foreign policy. A more robust foreign policy, after all, requires a more robust military.
Yet the United States military is the federal government. What this means is that the larger the military, the larger must be the federal government of which it is a part.
In turn, this implies that everything that can be said against big government can just as easily—and inescapably—be said against big military.
For example, if big government is financially unsustainable, as Romney and Republicans continually tell us, then, because big military is big government, a big military is financially unsustainable.
More tellingly, if big government is a betrayal of the liberty-centered ethical vision of America’s founders, then big military is as well.
Indeed, no Republican should want for Americans to be reminded of neoconservative foreign policy this election year.
The one Republican who should desire least this least of all is Mitt Romney.