Bill McGurn Blasts Romney on Foreign Policy

“If he wants to become the commander-in-chief, Mr. Romney needs to begin acting like one,” writes Ricochet’s Bill McGurn in his WSJ column today.  Noticeably absent not only from Romney’s convention speech, but from his entire campaign thus far has been any substantive platform concerning America’s role in Afghanistan.

In the section devoted to Afghanistan on his website, Mr. Romney’s starts out strong. He scores Mr. Obama for the “protracted deliberation process” he pursued before he announced his Afghanistan policy, for pulling back troops against the advice of his commanders, indeed, for a withdrawal dictated more by election year politics than military goals. All these things give Mr. Romney an opening to present the American people with a real choice about what ought to come next.

So what does he offer? The next paragraph lays it out. Mr. Romney vows a “review” based on “discussions with our commanders in the field.” Not only that, but “a full interagency assessment.” More cooperation “with both the Afghan government and Pakistan.” And so on.

Bill argues that this is just plainly unacceptable from a man who is campaigning to become the next commander-in-chief.

Whatever the reason, even after Mr. Obama’s surge forces return home, America will have 68,000 men and women in uniform there. Mr. Romney’s reluctance to outline a thoughtful policy on Afghanistan does not make it go away. To the contrary, it only ratifies President Obama’s contention that the only choice is between getting out quick and an open-ended commitment as far as the eye can see.

That is a disservice. It is, first, a disservice to the stronger foreign policy Mr. Romney is alleged to represent. Does he really believe, for example, that the Israelis will be encouraged and the Iranians deterred by expressions of resolve from a political leader so reluctant to bring up a war Americans are actually fighting?

This criticism is scathing, but constructive.  The question, though, is whether Romney will risk delving into a discussion of foreign policy with fewer than 60 days before the election.

  1. James Of England
    Bill McGurn:…..

    My fear is not that he has no opinion on Afghanistan. My fear is that he believes  the American people cannot handle the truth — especially if it mean keeping troops there that Mr. Obama is now pulling back. On the other hand, maybe he….. Either way, he ought to say so, and tell us why. Especially those Americans deployed overseas. 

    If he doesn’t do it now, he’s going to suffer in the debates. He is also going to find himself bound by President Obama’s parameters. The signs are not hopeful.  

    You feel that if he believes that the American public cannot handle the truth, he should say so and tell us why? Are there any other anti-America broadsides you believe he should deliver?Or was the column an attempt to make him ignore their unreadiness and gaffe?

    If your goal was to alert him about the debates, do you really have no quieter channels through which you could have sent that message?

    Do you find Bill Kristol quoting an unnamed adviser saying something stupid  (the link provided) to be evidence of something meaningful? At most, it seems to me like pre-debate expectation management.

  2. James Of England
    Bill McGurn: 

    The alternative is, as a Romney advisor suggested, to cede to Mr. Obama foreign affairs, where Mr. Obama has the worst record since Jimmy Carter,  and at a moment when a mob just attacked our embassy.  ·

    Sisyphus: I agree that it is appropriate for Romney to say something, in fact, to some extent he already has in his choice of foreign travels. But I recall Romney chastising the timetables for withdrawal from the other guy, and I don’t remember Reagan tipping his hand on particulars with regard to the Iranian hostage crisis.

    As Sisyphus says, there’s no need to choose every battlefield. It is important that Romney fights hard on foreign policy, as he has been (an expanded defense budget, aggressive pursuit of terrorists including enhanced interrogation support, expanded free trade, particularly in his “Reagan Economic Zone”, trade enforcement with China, support for Israel, particularly with regard to Iran, less conciliation with Russia, more support for Russia’s victims (the stans and Poland, particularly)).

    Afghanistan’s an ugly battlefield. Let candidate Mitt focus on  issues that win votes or require mandates. President Mitt will need to deal with Afghanistan, but premature sniping will not help him.

  3. Nick Stuart

    At this point in time, what does Mr. McGurn hope to accomplish?

    Leaving aside the merits of his argument, in what way does this piece advance the goal of retiring Barack Obama?

    Why are so many conservative commentators so in love with the sound of their own voice and the appearance of their words in print that they just can’t seem to focus on getting Romney elected instead of the incessant [COC compliant term] complaining about what Romney is or isn’t doing, says or isn’t saying?

    If Romney loses by a whisker, Mr. McGurn will be among the conservative commentariat who owns a share of the blame.

    November 7 will come soon enough, and there will be all the time in the world after that for complaint if, God forbid, we have a second Obama term.

  4. Mendel
    Nick Stuart:

    Why are so many conservative commentators so in love with the sound of their own voice and the appearance of their words in print that they just can’t seem to focus on getting Romney elected instead of the incessant [COC compliant term]complainingabout what Romney is or isn’t doing, says or isn’t saying?

    If Romney loses by a whisker, Mr. McGurn will be among the conservative commentariat who owns a share of the blame.

    Does Mr. McGurn receive a bonus check at the end of the year if Romney is elected?  Or if he increases the number of clicks onto his column?

  5. Trace

    Nick — It’s not Bill’s job to get Mitt Romney elected, and he has written more than his fair share of op-eds critical of Obama.

    My big objection to the piece is that it is guilty of the same sin — it’s far easier to criticize others over Afghanistan and much harder to say instead what should be done. I don’t see an obvious “conservative” position, but the reaction to Clint Eastwood’s speech suggests that the Republican delegates at least are plenty sick of the war.

    As best I can tell, the most internally consistent position is that the US prosecutes terrorists that threaten our citizens aggressively, no matter where they reside. And I’m not sure that at the end of the day that is so different from the President’s position. 

  6. Hang On

    The policy should be clear. Get the other 68,000 troops out ASAP. They shouldn’t be there. Advice should be taken from commanders on the ground as to how to get them out safely and quickly. There are no military objectives in Afghanistan.

  7. Frozen Chosen

    The reason Romney hasn’t outlined a good policy for Afghanistan is that there is none.  The place is a mess and always will be a mess.  The Afghan people – at least the men – refuse to act like civilized  people.

    If Romney feels this way saying it now in a campaign is damaging to the troops.  We need to get out but we need to do it in a grown up manner, not for politically expedient purposes as Obama has done.

  8. Astonishing

    Wasn’t Afghanistan the “good” war?

    If we fail there, it will be a failure of will. And common sense. We could have won.

    Imagine if the effort we’ve expended in Afghanistan during the past eleven years had been concentrated into only one or two years. By now the war would have long been over, and Britney Spears would have been touring there.

    As Machiavelli explained, in war it is cruel to be kind and kind to be cruel.

    If Romney is elected, defeat in Afghanistan will be his defeat, just as victory would be his victory. With sadness for all the young lives lost there and all the young bodies maimed there,  I expect defeat. Doesn’t everyone?

    This seems to be one more piece of evidence that we must choose between electing Romney to manage the decline, and Obama to hasten it.

  9. Edward Smith

    I do not see it as a concession to Obama on Romney’s part for Romney to acknowledge that the people he will need consult decide what to do moving forward about Afghanistan work for Obama right now, and give their advice to Obama.

    Romney does not have experience in military matters, and limited experience with foreign affairs.

    It is one thing to talk about solidarity with Israel and concern over Iran.  It is another matter to have a master plan ready now for what to do in Afghanistan.

    Romney will have 68,000 soldiers on the ground when he starts out.  He will be able to reverse course, if that is what he decides to do.

    There are some things you cannot say you will do as President until you are President.  Guantanamo Bay, for instance.

  10. Instugator
    Jeff:

    Instugator: Afghanistan is too chaotic to plan for the long term and any plan that fails to account for the short term is just plain stupid. Medium term security is doable and is the best policy for the US.

    This is quite backwards. Chaotic systems are more easily understood over the long term and more difficult to understand over the short term. Consider the weather.

    “Quite Backward” – Gee Jeff, you mean your fundamental understanding of the weather allowed you to divine that the chaotic Afghanistan of the 1990′s would one day harbor an international terrorist organization that would attack the US and kill ~3000 people?

    Sorry, when looking toward chaotic governments (Afghanistan) to divine future threats to a specific entity (US security interests) you can only plan in the medium term.

  11. dittoheadadt
    Trace Urdan: Nick — It’s not Bill’s job to get Mitt Romney elected, and he has written more than his fair share of op-eds critical of Obama.

    No, but (at the risk of being presumptuous) it is his desire, and probably not so much a selfish desire as a desire for the future survival of the republic.  So, back to Nick’s question, viewed through that prism: “At this point in time, what does Mr. McGurn hope to accomplish?”

    It’s a column better written in early December or January, prior to Inauguration Day, rather than now, prior to Election Day.

    I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I can’t conceive of anything helpful to the cause or to the country coming from Bill’s column.  Granted, that’s not his job.  But can’t our side once in a while bite our tongue instead of shooting our foot?

  12. Susan Salisbury

    In war, telegraphing your strategy in advance is usually a bad idea.  Giving the Taliban a withdrawal date was one of Obama’s big mistakes.  The other big mistake was getting involved in “nation building”.  Will we never learn?  Nation building can be done but we, as a nation, don’t have the stomach for it.  It requires a total occupation and control over the populace.  That’s what we did in Japan and Germany.  We don’t have support for it now.  So we should just, pardon my language, kick butt and get out.  Put Karzai in place, put Chalaby in place, whatever, and get out.  Our aim should be this:  If you mess with us, we will mess with you.  Attack our country, Mr. Sadam and you will be dead.  That simple.  Because that is within the range of the possible. 

  13. Herbert Woodbery

    Nation building can be done but we, as a nation, don’t have the stomach for it.  It requires a total occupation and control over the populace. 

    Name one sucess story of Islamic nation building.  

  14. Nick Stuart
    Bill McGurn: I know Marine headed off to Afghanistan.

    Two of my children are active duty Army, either one could be deployed to Afghanistan. I want to be able to look them in the eye and say I did everything I could to elect Mitt Romney as Commander-in-Chief, and that I avoided to the extent possible doing anything that might impair that.

    Dittoheadadt has it right, this is a column better written in early December or January.

    This electoral campaign is the metaphorical equivalent of Okinawa. Critiquing the guy at the front is entirely counterproductive at this point. We have to all find a way to help win the battle and leave the critique for after the battle is won.

  15. Instugator

    First, while Mitt Romney has undoubtedly received national security briefings as the Republican nominee, it is safe to assume that he has not received the full and complete picture from our national security establishment.

    Second, the Afghanistan policy has somersaulted over the last 4 years (unspecified goals, surge – taking the ‘high risk’ option, scheduled withdrawal) leaving no clear goal except withdrawal in 2014 – regardless of the situation on the ground.

    Given all that, it would be foolish for him articulate a firm resolution to the Afghanistan campaign based solely on the open source information at his fingertips.

    I would prefer he articulate a set of “endstate conditions” that are acceptable to the medium term (about 3 years) security of the US.

    Afghanistan is too chaotic to plan for the long term and any plan that fails to account for the short term is just plain stupid. Medium term security is doable and is the best policy for the US.

    Bill would do a better job requesting what are Romney’s values regarding the nation’s security instead of requesting goals that are unknowable without actually being in the office.

  16. Duane Oyen

    What do you say about Afghanistan?

    I’m frankly tired of Bill Kristol, in every configuration, looking for something different to write about and always going back to Mideast policy.  This needs to be looked at fresh after the new president is able to get full input from Petraeus and several other smart people.   Until then, every possible alternative is bad.  The only thing you can do is either propose a new surge (good luck with that) or pull out, period.

    The emphasis should be on Iran and relations with Israel.  Not inserting himself into the war zone and undercutting the current policies.

  17. James Of England
    Herbert Woodbery: Nation building can be done but we, as a nation, don’t have the stomach for it.  It requires a total occupation and control over the populace. 

    Name one sucess story of Islamic nation building.   · 1 hour ago

    Iraq. Countries aren’t simply “good” or “bad”, so there’ll be problems for a long time but, like Mexico, the lives of most citizens are more impacted by the good news in the economy than by the bad news in the headlines. That’s not been the case for working age Iraqis in their adult lifetimes, and it’s an achievement that will continue to bear fruit for generations.

  18. Bill McGurn
    C

    I’m not someone who believes problems in a candidate goes away if he ignores them. Gov. Romney doesn’t have to get into the weeds: Ronald Reagan in 1980 made clear his goal was military superiority viz a viz the Russians. The section on Afghanistan on MittRomney.com  is the process drivel you put down to substitute for policy.

    My fear is not that he has no opinion on Afghanistan. My fear is that he believes  the American people cannot handle the truth — especially if it mean keeping troops there that Mr. Obama is now pulling back. On the other hand, maybe he believes the situation hopeless. Either way, he ought to say so, and tell us why. Especially those Americans deployed overseas. 

    If he doesn’t do it now, he’s going to suffer in the debates. He is also going to find himself bound by President Obama’s parameters. The signs are not hopeful.  

  19. Jeff
    Nick Stuart: they just can’t seem to focus on getting Romney elected instead of the incessant [COC compliant term]complaining about what Romney is or isn’t doing, says or isn’t saying?

    The complaints of McGurn are the complaints of many. Romney needs to address his base. The best way to do that is listen to criticism from his base.

    dittoheadad  But can’tour side once in a while bite our tongue instead of shooting our foot?

    Ditto what I wrote above.

    Instugator: Afghanistan is too chaotic to plan for the long term and any plan that fails to account for the short term is just plain stupid. Medium term security is doable and is the best policy for the US.

    This is quite backwards. Chaotic systems are more easily understood over the long term and more difficult to understand over the short term. Consider the weather.

    Romney should reject nation-building and occupation strategies in the war on terror. He should admit the logical impossibility of the former and the empirical failures of the latter.

    Romney should propose an economic, electronic, and military raiding strategy which disrupts terrorist networks at the planning, training and recruiting stages.

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