Back to Torture? 5 Ways Mitt Romney Will Bring Back the Worst of George W. Bush


Barack Obama has accelerated drone strikes that have killed innocent civilians, unilaterally assassinated American citizens in Yemen and escalated the war in Afghanistan. But a Mitt Romney presidency on the foreign policy front would be just as bad, or even worse: a return to the cowboy adventurism of the George W. Bush years.

The Romney campaign sees an opening to attack Obama on foreign policy after the debacle in Libya which resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens and three others. A Politico story reported that some Romney advisers want to exploit the Libya crisis and use it as an opportunity to “argue White House failure and incompetence.” Romney could make that argument in a “major speech on foreign policy” that his campaign is planning for next week.

But the Romney campaign remains split over whether to pivot to foreign policy or focus on the economy. Regardless of whether Romney heeds his more zealous advisers and exploits the Libya crisis, though, recent events make clear that Romney would try to return to a Bush-like foreign policy fueled by heady neoconservative ideas that have been proven not to work. Here are five reasons why:

1. Back to Torture

One of Obama’s first acts in office was to ban the torture of terrorism suspects, but Romney wants to go back to those days.

A Romney presidency guarantees that the torture tactics pushed by the Bush administration would be back in style. A September 27 New York Times article reports that Romney advisers “privately urged him to ‘rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order’ and permit secret ‘enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives.’”

The tactics Romney is fond of include waterboarding, which is meant to simulate what it feels like to drown. In November 2011, aides to Romney said that “he does not believe waterboarding is torture.”

The use of torture violates both federal and international law.

2. Promoting ‘Democracy’ Abroad

A Wall Street Journal Op-Ed authored by Romney that was published yesterday gives more evidence of Romney’s desire to emulate Bush’s disastrous foreign policy.

A centerpiece of the Bush administration’s neoconservative adventurism was the selective promotion of American-style democracy abroad. The Iraq War was supposed to be the shining example of this. The plan was to topple a dictator, plant the American flag and fundamentally transform Iraq into a functioning democracy. It didn’t work out that way.

And of course, this was always selective democracy promotion. If a dictator was poking the U.S. in the eye and not bending to heavy-handed American threats, the thinking went, democracy should be promoted there. But in cases where the outcomes of democratic elections were not what the U.S. wanted--see the 2006 elections in the Palestinian territories--the Bush administration attempted to overturn the will of the people.

Romney’s rhetoric signals a return to this kind of disingenuous democracy promotion. “The 20th century became an American Century because we were steadfast in defense of freedom,” wrote Romney in the Wall Street Journal. “Our challenges are different now, but if the 21st century is to be another American Century, we need leaders who understand that keeping the peace requires American strength in all of its dimensions.”

But Romney contradicts himself. He also writes that a “disturbing development” in the Middle East was that, “in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power.” But the Brotherhood coming to power is an example, as much as Romney might not want to admit it, of “freedom” and democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood was elected by the majority of the Egyptian people in free and fair elections.

3. Exploiting Tragedies For Political Gain

The September 11 terrorist attacks were promptly exploited by the Bush administration to push a neoconservative agenda that involved invading countries that had nothing to do with 9/11 and curbing civil liberties and dissent at home.

If the Romney campaign’s behavior after the September 11, 2012 attack on the US embassy in Libya is any indication, they would do the exact same thing as the Bush administration did if they were in power.

Some Romney advisers told Politico that, because of the Libya attack, now was the time to “argue White House failure and incompetence.” And Romney himself already attempted to exploit the Libya tragedy for political gain in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The immediate response from Romney after the attack in Libya devolved into the candidate blasting the Obama administration for allegedly sympathizing with the attackers and apologizing for American values. The salvos against Obama were a distorted version of reality, of course.

4. Saber Rattling on Iran

The Bush administration attacked a country--Iraq--which posed no threat to the U.S. and had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks. Now, Romney is ramping up the rhetoric in order to wage another war on a Middle Eastern country that has not hurt the U.S.--this time Iran.

Dick Cheney was the most ardent advocate of bombing Iran inside the Bush administration, but the pushback against the idea was strong. But Romney is surrounded by a group of advisers who are bent on bombing Iran and overthrowing the country’s regime.

The saber rattling for war is apparent in Romney’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. “When we say an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability—and the regional instability that comes with it—is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us,” writes Romney.

The reference to the “ayatollahs” being “made to believe us” is clearly meant to convey that Romney would be willing to threaten war on Iran if they continued with their nuclear energy program. (It’s important to note that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and that U.S. intelligence agencies would be able to detect a move towards one easily.)

The word “capability” is key here. It means that Romney would saber rattle and potentially bomb Iran if the country achieved “latent” nuclear capacity. It’s a fuzzy term that means having the ability to create a nuclear weapon if you wanted to. But it shouldn’t be a threshold for a war that would have devastating and catastrophic consequences.

5. No Daylight With Israel

After Bush’s disastrous tenure ended, The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes listed the former president’s “ten great achievements.” One of them was “Bush's unswerving support for Israel. Reagan was once deemed Israel's best friend in the White House. Now Bush can claim the title.”

Though there were occasional clashes between the Bush administration and Israel, right-wing advocates for Israel successfully pressured Bush in those instances to back off Israel. This resulted in the Bush administration expressing support for Israel’s devastating wars on Lebanon and Gaza, which killed thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.

Obama hasn’t been much better, though in the early days of his term he did attempt to exert pressure on Israel for its continued expansion of illegal settlements. But there would be no chance for even that rhetorical pressure if Romney was in the White House.

There should be “no daylight between the United States and Israel,” Romney has frequently said. This “no daylight” policy would consist of saying nothing as Israel expanded settlements and continued its belligerent saber rattling for war. A policy like this would be disastrous to the prospects for Middle East peace.

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