In recent days, the gloves have started to come off in the Republican primary. In the immediate aftermath of the dreadful Phoneyfred.com incident, the Thompson campaign absolutely unloaded on the Governor (while I don’t think that the Governor had anything to do with that mess, it’s just one of those times when you have to smile, absorb a blow or two, and press on). And now–in a move that is potentially far more damaging than the recent website dustup–an unnamed campaign is peddling the idea that Governor Romney is “anti-war.” NRO’s Jim Geraghty has written long a thoughtful post in response to this campaign’s arguments. The post begins:
Elsewhere on NRO, in an article entitled, “Disowning a War,” David Freddoso writes that Mitt Romney “is unique among the serious Republican presidential contenders because he has never said he would [invade Iraq] all over again, and they all have.”
I would add to that even beyond the lack of “I would do it again,” Romney has used a distinctively different tone when assessing the surge, contemplating partitioning Iraq, and “changing course in Iraq”, compared to most of his rivals.
One staffer with a rival campaign has been urging me, at length, to write that Romney is the anti-war candidate in the race. When told, “He’s even less a supporter of the war than Ron Paul!” I urged the staffer to switch to decaf. But he did prompt me to take a long look at Romney’s comments on the war.
While it’s not fair to say Romney opposes the surge, the former Massachusetts governor is much more circumspect about discussing its success . . .
As someone with a direct, personal interest in the conduct of the war, I’ve followed the Governor’s statements very, very closely (after all, he could be my commander in chief), and I don’t see someone who is anti-war. I instead see a person who is fighting to keep his options open in an immensely difficult political, tactical, and strategic environment.
I think the following describes the Governor’s outlook (I don’t have inside intel on this…all my points below are based on external observation):
(1) Like every other major Republican candidate (and unlike the major Democratic candidates), the Governor sees the War on Terror not as a police matter but as a war, a military conflict.
(2) He has from the beginning of his campaign properly identified the war not as a battle against “terror” but instead as a war against “jihadists”–a war against individuals who share a common theology and ideology.
(3) He is approaching the conflict not as an insider (he had no real input into either the decisions to launch the Afghan and Iraqi phases of the war or into the strategic and tactical decisions made since the battles started) but as a genuine outsider. He doesn’t have any actions or votes to defend, and he doesn’t have political capital tied up in any given war decision.
(4) His history as a businessman, Olympic leader, and governor is to come into crisis situations, apply fresh thinking and excellent management, and turn failure into success. Turnarounds often require substantial course corrections. His commitment is to victory, not to any given strategy that might lead to victory.
(5) Like virtually everyone else, he recognizes that Iraq is (to put it mildly) not the place we hoped it would be. We’ve made major mistakes, and we have huge challenges.
(6) So applying his personal history and outlook, it’s hardly surprising to see a person willing to qualify his support for the surge (or any of the current strategies) with an “if.” Heck, I want to see if the surge works too. Despite its promising start, its far from clear that it represents the turning point that we’re all hoping for.
In a time of war, what do you want from a president (and presidential candidate)? Outspoken support for specific strategies or outspoken support for specific outcomes? When you tie yourself to a strategy, your credibility rides with its success, and that’s a dangerous thing when (like all the GOP candidates) you virtually no ability to manage the conflict or the execution of the strategy. Your future is tied to the outcome of other people’s efforts. When you tie yourself to an outcome, then you maintain the strategic flexibility that a president (and candidate) need.
It’s clear to me that the Governor views the conflict through the correct lens, has the correct goals, and has a demonstrated capacity to redeem seemingly hopeless situations. All of those virtues trump any ambiguity on the surge.