Mitt Romney the etch a sketch candidate, the flip flopper extraordinaire, the most disingenuous presidential candidate in modern history, extended his unprecedented string of political pandering at the third presidential debate on Monday evening. Obama and Romney met to debate and discuss foreign policy in the final debate before the general election. Romney’s goal was to do no harm to his election aspirations, and he chose to do so by doing what he does best, run as far away from his past as he possibly can and pander to the audience at hand.
Romney’s long history of political pandering and flip flopping has become the stuff of political legend and has given rise to a cottage industry of Internet web sites, like the conservative site, lessgovisthebestgov.com that lists 28 instances of Romney's reversing himself on key issues of the day.
Romney has changed his position on every major issue of modern day politics, including abortion, gun control, stem cell research, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, service in the Vietnam war, capital gains tax, the NRA, conservatism (I’m an Independent, no a moderate, no a “severe” conservative), global warming, campaign spending limits, and immigration reform, so it should come as no surprise that he was so comfortable adding foreign policy to that list. The most consistent thing about Romney’s political career, the one thing you can always be certain of, is Romney “does not stand for anything and will lie down for everything.”
Consider this series of memes that documents Romney’s history of being a political hack selling snake oil to the American electorate.
Romney on Abortion
Romney on the Auto-Bailout
Romney on Emergency Room Care
Romney on Occupy Wall Street
Romney on Taxes
Romney on Immigration
Romney on Vietnam
Romney on Education
It is only when Romney is in front of his supporters that you find out what he truly believes, because any time he is asked to speak to a mixed audience, as he was last night, you can bet that what you hear will greatly differ from his previous record. It was ironic that the debate was held in the city, Boca Raton, where Romney revealed how he truly feels about 47% of the American public, because after that tape was revealed, he went on an apology tour to try to convince Americans that what he says in private to trusted friends is not what he really believes. The same thing happened last night. On foreign policy, Romney tried to convince Americans that we should ignore everything he had said up to that point. Romney tried to convince Americans that he is not governed by the Bush neo-conservatives that inform his saber rattling, jingoistic policies; he tried to convince Americans that he is no more hawkish than the President by generally agreeing with Obama on virtually every policy position. But even during the debate you can see how Romney was sending contradictory messages and pandering for votes. As evidence, consider:
1) His desire to build more naval ships even though military experts consider America’s Navy the finest in the world. This is an obvious attempt to sway swing state voters in Virginia. Two of the largest employers in Virginia are the military and the federal government. Romney’s plans to reduce the size of government would adversely impact Virginia, so he is pandering to the military industrial complex in the state.
2) During the debate Obama said to Romney, “You say that you're not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq. But just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day,” which of course was true. Two weeks ago in a speech to VMI, Romney said, “America's ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence.” CNN reported that in December of 2011, Romney told Fox News, “that the Obama administration was ending the American presence "in a precipitous way, and we should have left 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 personnel there to help transition to the Iraqis' own military capabilities."
3) When talking about Pakistan, Romney displayed a slightly schizophrenic approach to foreign aid vis-à-vis his position on arming Syria. Romney said, “This is a nation, which, if it falls apart, if it becomes a failed state, there are nuclear weapons there and you've got terrorists there who could grab their hands onto those nuclear weapons.” Romney is actually correct to be concerned about terrorists obtaining arms, particularly nuclear arms. Yet, during the debate he advocated for arming Syrian forces fighting the Assad regime. Is he not concerned that those arms could inadvertently find themselves in the hands of terrorists? Is he not concerned that those terrorists could gain access to additional arms of the Syrian army? Granted it is not of the same magnitude, Pakistan of course has nuclear capability, but it is inconsistent to be concerned about terrorists in Pakistan and not in Syria. Slate's ’ Fred Kaplan said, “Romney’s line on Syria was very delicately phrased.” Romney said, “I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.” Kaplan explained that “first, and again, it’s unclear any of the rebels “share our values.” Second, it’s unclear whether, once the good guys among the rebels (a.k.a. the non-Islamists) get these heavy arms; they won’t share them with their Islamist brothers.”
4) On the Middle East, Romney said, “I see the Middle East with a rising tide of violence, chaos, tumult. I see jihadists continuing to spread, whether they're rising or just about the same level, hard to precisely measure, but it's clear they're there. They're very strong.” Romney said, “Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes.” How can he contradict himself in the same sentence? If the jihadists are spreading, then wouldn’t that be rising? And regarding our response to events in the region, he agreed with Obama on Syria, Bin Laden, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. As far as tumult in the region, if this is in reference to the sporadic burst of activity last month, well that has largely died down, and the other activity is directly related to civil unrest of populations overthrowing governments as they try to move towards democracy. Once again, Romney failed to connect this birth of democracy i.e. the Arab Spring with the supposed tumult in the region.
5) Romney has relentlessly tried to leverage his long-time relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to portray Obama as being weak on Iran and unsupportive of Israeli defense concerns. However during the debate, he agreed with Obama’s policy of crippling sanctions designed to force Iran to capitulate in its quest for nuclear arms capability. Romney said, “Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You're seeing it right now in the economy.”
6) On Afghanistan, Romney criticized Obama’s plan as a “politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country.” He then went on to agree with that very same plan. Romney said “I will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014” which of course is in fact Obama’s policy and the official NATO policy.
During the debate Romney stated that, “War does not win elections,” and so he set out to distance himself from any notion that he is pro-war. I don’t know if he was successful, we’ll find out in two weeks.