Mitt Romney on War & Peace
Former Republican Governor (MA); presidential nominee-apparent
ROMNEY: The right course for this nation is to do whatever it takes to destroy and defeat ISIS. And it's appropriate for us to provide support to the Iraqi military & intelligence. And I think the President's wrong in saying that under no circumstances will he consider ground troops. No one wants to put their own ground troops there. But if you're going to defeat something, you don't tell the enemy exactly what you plan on doing or what you won't do. You say "we're going to defeat you regardless of the consequence."
Q: So if it comes to it that we may have to send American fighting forces, not just advisors?
ROMNEY: Well, no one wants that. But when the President says "we're going to destroy ISIS," it doesn't mean "well, we'll destroy it only in the following ways." You say instead we're going to do whatever it takes to destroy ISIS.
MITT ROMNEY: Well, what we're fighting for is to preserve freedom in the region and to prevent the region from becoming a hotbed from which there could be attacks launched against us. But what has happened in Iraq and with ISIS is a good deal predictable by virtue of the president's failure to act appropriately and at the extraordinary time that was presented a couple of years ago in Syria. And also his failure to achieve a Status of Forces Agreement so that we could have an ongoing presence in Iraq. Bad things happen as a result of inaction. Consequences have obviously been very severe.
Q: So what would you do specifically?
ROMNEY: There's a propitious time to do things to prevent bad things from happening. to tell you precisely what's going to happen right now and what things we ought to do militarily o stop this ISIS movement from creating a terrorist state--that would require me to get the kind of intelligence briefings I no longer get.
On Aug. 24, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that the US could send troops into Syria to secure lose chemical weapons: "I think we have to also be ready to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that we do not have any kind of weapon of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists and whether that requires troops, or whether that requires other actions by our friends and allies."
When asked about the threat that Syria's chemical weapons posed, Romney added: "There's a wide array of potential threats, but clearly the concern would be that some terrorist group would receive the capacity to carry out a mass destruction event."
OBAMA: My first job as commander in chief is to keep the American people safe, and that's what we've done over the last four years. We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11. And as a consequence, al-Qaida's core leadership has been decimated.
ROMNEY: First of all, 30,000 people being killed by their government is a humanitarian disaster. Secondly, Syria's an opportunity for us because Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea. It's the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. A replacement government is critical for us [but] we don't want to get drawn into a military conflict. And so the right course for us is to identify responsible parties within Syria, bring them together in a form of council that can take the lead in Syria, and then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves.
OBAMA: We are playing the leadership role. We organized the "Friends of Syria." We are mobilizing humanitarian support and support for the opposition.
Q: Would you go beyond what the administration would do? Like, for example, would you put in no-fly zones over Syria?
ROMNEY: I don't want to have our military involved in Syria. I don't think there's a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage. I don't anticipate that in the future. As I indicated, our objectives are to replace Assad and to have in place a new government which is friendly to us--a responsible government, if possible. And I want to make sure the get armed and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves but also to remove Assad. But I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our troops.
ROMNEY: America has a responsibility and the privilege of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that make the world more peaceful. And those principles include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, and elections. So we want to promote those principles around the world. With regards to standing for our principles, when the students took to the streets in Tehran and the people there protested, the Green Revolution occurred. For the president to be silent I thought was an enormous mistake. We have to stand for our principles, stand for our allies, stand for a strong military and stand for a stronger economy.
OBAMA: America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America. And it is stronger now than when I came into office. And our alliances have never been stronger--in Europe, and with Israel, including dealing with the Iranian threat.
ROMNEY: There's no question but that a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable to America. It presents ultimately a threat to us to have Iran have nuclear material or nuclear weapons. It's also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful & diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I'd called for five years ago. I laid out seven steps. Crippling sanctions were #1. And they do work. You're seeing it right now in the economy. It's absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I'd have put them in place earlier, but it's good that we have them. #2, something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil can't come into our ports. And I'd take on diplomatic isolation efforts.
But in recent years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to atrophy. Our economy is stuck in a "recovery" that barely deserves the name. Our national debt has risen to record levels. Our military, tested by a decade of war, is facing devastating cuts thanks to the budgetary games played by the White House. Finally, our values have been misapplied--and misunderstood--by a president who thinks that weakness will win favor with our adversaries.
"I think we have to also be ready to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that we do not have any kind of weapon of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists and whether that requires troops, or whether that requires other actions by our friends and allies," Romney said in an interview, specifically noting that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been involved in the region.
Mitt was incensed; he attached a large sign to a pole, "SPEAK OUT, DON'T SIT IN." The picture ran the next day in the newspaper with a caption, "Governor's son pickets the pickets. Mitt Romney was one of the pickets who supported the Stanford administration today in opposition to sit-in demonstrators." Mitt was at the forefront of a group of about 350 anti-protestors, who shouted at the antiwar group. "Down with mob rule!" and "Reason, not coercion!" When a university official announced that students participating in the sit-in would be disciplined, Mitt shouted, "Come out of the office and let school continue!"
Mitt had earned a reputation as an organizer and was becoming a political figure in his own right; the image of him holding the sign at the anti-protest protest would linger in classmates' memories.
Romney has denied that he sought to avoid the draft, saying later, "I was supportive of my country. I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there, and in some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam." But on another occasion he seemed to contradict himself, saying, "I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam, but nor did I take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft."
When Romney's deferment ended, his name was put into the lottery; he drew the number 300. He would never serve, voluntarily or otherwise, in the military.
ROMNEY: I happen to agree with most of what the speaker said, except by going down and saying the Palestinians are an invented people. That I think was a mistake on the speaker's part. I think the speaker would probably suggest that as well.
ROMNEY: Israel does not want us to make it more difficult for them to sit down with the Palestinians. Ultimately, the Palestinians and the Israelis are going to have to agree on how they're going to settle the differences between them. My view is this: We stand with the Israeli people. We link arms with them. If we disagree with them, like this president has time and time again, we don't do it in public like he's done it, we do it in private. And we let the Israeli leadership describe what they believe the right course is going forward.
Romney: This is Pres. Obama's greatest failing, from a foreign policy standpoint, which is he recognized the gravest threat that America faced was a nuclear Iran and he did not do what was necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly. What he should have done is speak out when dissidents took the streets and say, "America is with you." And work on a covert basis to encourage the dissidents. #2, he should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran. Finally, the president should have built credible threat of military action, and made it very clear that the US is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Look, one thing you can know: if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you'd like me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.
Romney: Well, it's worth putting in place crippling sanctions. It's worth working with the insurgents in the company to encourage regime change in the country. And if all else fails, if after all of the work we've done, there's nothing else we can do beside take military action, then of course you take military action. It is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. This term "unacceptable" has been applied by several presidents over history, and our current president has made it very clear that he's not willing to do those things necessary to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly. I will take a different course. I will make sure that the sanctions, diplomatic pressure, economic pressure, and support of insurgents within the country help them become dissuaded to get away from their nuclear ambition. And finally, have a military presence there.
Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat and declare defeat. And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.
A: You sit down with your attorneys and tell you what you have to do, but obviously, the president has to do what’s in the best interest of the US to protect us against a potential threat. The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress.
Q: Did he need it?
A: You know, we’re going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn’t need to do, but certainly what you want to do is to have the agreement of all the people in leadership of our government, as well as our friends around the world. But the key thing here is to make sure that we don’t have to use military action against Iran. And that’s why we’re going to have to put a lot tougher sanctions on Iran, economic sanctions, credit sanctions, and treating Ahmadinejad like the rogue and the buffoon that he is.
A: I don’t have a time frame that I’ve announced. The surge is apparently working. If the surge is working, then we’re going to be able to start bringing back our troops levels slowly but surely, and play more of a support role over time. Ultimately, I would anticipate that we’re not going to have a permanent presence in Iraq, and we’ll be in a standby mode in surrounding nations.
Q: Do you see that support phase in 2008?
A: The timetable for that I hope will be as soon as possible. We all hope for that. But the question of timetable will depend upon how successful the surge is. And the key is, we don’t start pulling back troops; we don’t go into a support mode until we are successful with this surge and we are providing the security and the stability that we anticipate.
A: Well, clearly your hypothetical suggests that everything we’ve done, up until this point and beyond, didn’t work. And there’s a lot we can do to keep that scenario from occurring. Before you actually take military action, what you do next is this: the president meets with leaders, Republican and Democrat, to make sure we’re all on the same page. We want to make sure that Democrats sign up, that we’re all part of this on a unified basis. Number two, you meet with our allies around the world and make sure we’re on the same page on this, including China & Saudi Arabia. Now we take the military option off the table. When they see our military in our hand, a possible blockade or possible aerial strikes, they recognize we mean business. And that’s going to make them think twice and, hopefully, abandon their folly. Because it is unacceptable to the world for us to have a nuclear Iran.
A: Obviously, a hypothetical with all the potential permutations of what might develop is kind of hard to fashion, but if we’re making progress that suggests there’s a reasonable probability of success in stabilizing Iraq, that’s a course I’m going to follow. I get a chance to speak almost every week to people who’ve been there, who are non-partisan, and the response I’m hearing is that we seem to be making some progress there, albeit slow. That’s encouraging to me, because the consequence of withdrawing with a massive civil war breaking out and a regional conflict ensuing could have consequences for our nation and the world that are really quite frightening and perhaps cause us to come back again. A course of stability would be very, very encouraging, and I think there’s some signs that that’s what’s happening.
A: I think we’re pretty much in the same place. It is critical for us to win this conflict. It is essential, and that’s why we’re going to continue to pursue this effort. And we’re going to get a report from General Petraeus on the success. And I agree the Brookings Institution report over the weekend was a very encouraging indication that we’re making progress. That’s great news. At the same time, you look at that Democratic debate, I had to laugh at what I saw Barack Obama do. I mean, in one week he went from saying he’s going to sit down for tea, with our enemies, but then he’s going to bomb our allies. I mean, he’s gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week.
We have families who made a huge surge of sacrifice to support this surge. And it’s time, in my view, for the people of America to show a surge of support, including our leaders in Washington, for these families and for the troops.
A: The president is not arrogant. The president is not subject to a bunker mentality. The president has acted out of his desire to keep America safe. And we owe him a debt of gratitude for keeping this country safe over the last six years. He did the right thing in responding and reacting to the fact that we got attacked. And people now recognize: You attack America and there is a response. But we’re going to have to move our strategy from simply being a response to military threat with military action, to an effort that says we’re going to use our military and nonmilitary resources, combined with other nations who are our friends, to help move the world of Islam toward modernity and moderation. The new mission for NATO is to help provide the rule of law, education that’s not through madrassas, so the Muslims are able to reject the extreme and the terrorists.
ROMNEY: No, it's not time to divorce a nation on earth that has a hundred nuclear weapons. This is an important part of the world for us. Pakistan is technically an ally, and they're not acting very much like an ally right now, but we have some work to do. I don't blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. We had to go into Pakistan; we had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do. And that upset them, but there was obviously a great deal of anger even before that. Pakistan is important for the success of Afghanistan, because inside Pakistan you have a large group of Pashtuns that are Taliban, that they're going to come rushing back into Afghanistan when we go. And that's one of the reasons the Afghan security forces have so much work to do to be able to fight against that.
HUNTSMAN: The end of 2013.
ROMNEY: Well, we want to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can. The commanders are saying they think 2014 is a better date. If I'm president, I will inform myself based upon the experience of the people on the ground that are leading our effort there. I want to make sure that we hand off the responsibility to an Afghan security force that is capable of maintaining the sovereignty of their nation from the Taliban. I don't want to do something that would put in jeopardy the hard earned success which we've had there. And I would bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, of course, based upon my own experience there, informing myself of what's happening there and listening to the commanders on the ground.
HUNTSMAN: We also deferred to the commanders on the ground in about 1967, during the Vietnam War, and we didn't get very good advice then.
A: No, I have the same view. We have helped the people of Afghanistan establish freedom from the Taliban. But now we are at a point where they are going to have to earn and keep that freedom themselves. This is not something we are going to do forever. We've been there 10 years. We've been training the Afghan troops. It's time for the troops of Afghanistan to take on that responsibility according to the time table established by the generals in the field. And those generals recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012. He took a political decision to draw them down faster than that. That is wrong.
ROMNEY: It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. I think we've learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban.
Q: Congressman Paul, do you agree with that decision?
PAUL: Not quite. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I'd bring them home as quickly as possible.
A: Well, he knows that is a dishonest statement. He knows that like him, I’m in favor of the troop surge. I’ve never suggested that we set a date certain to withdraw from Iraq.
Q: McCain is referring to an interview you did last April 3rd, when you were asked, “Do you believe that there should a be timetable in withdrawing the troops?“ You responded, ”Well, there is no question but that the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about.“ Does he have a point?
A: No, he doesn’t have a point. Those are the same kind of timetables we’re dealing with right now. For instance, in bringing our troop strength down by July, we bring down by five brigades. But I’ve never said that we should have a date certain to withdraw
A: Yes, I think Barack Obama is confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies. In his first year, he wants to meet with Castro & Chavez & Assad & Ahmadinejad. Those are our enemies. Those are the world’s worst tyrants. And then he says he wants to unilaterally go in and potentially bomb a nation which is our friend. We’re trying to strengthen Musharraf.
Q: But if the CIA said, “We had Osama bin Laden in our sights, Musharraf says no,” what do you do?
A: It’s wrong for a person running for the president to get on TV and say, “We’re going to go into your country unilaterally.” Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we keep our options quiet.
GILMORE: We have to do everything that we can do to get this guy, because he is a symbol to the people who believe that they have a duty to destroy Western civilization.
ROMNEY: Of course we get bin Laden & track him wherever he has to go, and make sure he pays for the outrage he exacted upon America.
Q: Can we move heaven and earth to do it?
ROMNEY: We’ll move everything to get him. But this is not all about one person, because after we get him, there’s going to be another and another. This is a worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate. This is a global effort we’re going to have to lead to overcome this jihadist effort. It’s more than Osama bin Laden. But he is going to pay, and he will die.
ROMNEY: In 2012 I made it very clear that I thought we should've signed a Status of Forces Agreement, consistent with what President Bush said a long time ago, that we should have an ongoing presence. Not a massive military presence, but 10,000 or 20,000 troops to provide the training and the intelligence resources that Iraq would need to keep things like [ISIS] from happening. We have the strength to be able to get Maliki to sign a Status of Forces Agreement.
With all this history as a backdrop for their lectures to the young, jihadists have become quite confident in the knowledge that, time and again, we have underestimated their threat, their capacity to kill, and their steadfast resolve. This is a lesson they pass on to the young radicals in the making. Only in recent years has American resolve in Iraq and Afghanistan provided a counterexample of Western fortitude in the face of jihadist attacks.
McCain decided to force the debate back to Iraq and national security. Earlier in the year, Romney had made a fuzzy statement suggesting that the military prepare "a private timetable" for troop presence in Iraq. McCain blistered Romney: "If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Sen. Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Gov. Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher," he said. It was a questionable charge based on flimsy evidence, but it created the diversion McCain wanted. Romney's team foolishly took the bait. Romney demanded an apology. McCain responded, "The apology is owed to the young men and women serving this nation in uniform." McCain's attack on Romney over and Iraq timetable stopped Romney's surge.
ROMNEY: Unequivocably, absolutely no. I have never, ever supported a specific timetable for exit from Iraq. Sen. McCain pointed to an interview when I said that our president and their prime minister should have timetables and milestones. [When asked what I’d do with a bill with] a date specific to withdraw, I said I’d veto it.
McCAIN: Well, of course, he said he wanted a timetable. In April 2007, the buzzword was “timetables.” Governor, the right answer to that question was “no,” not what you said, that Maliki and the president should enter into some kind of agreement for, quote, “timetables.”
ROMNEY: Why don’t you use the whole quote, Senator?
MCCAIN: The actual quote is, “We don’t want them to lay in the weeds until we leave.”
ROMNEY: What does that mean?
MCCAIN: It means a timetable until we leave. If we weren’t leaving, how could the enemy lay in the weeds?
A: I’m not sure that there’s a big difference on what we would do going into the future. There is a big difference on how we looked at it in the past. There were times when he believed that there should be a timed withdrawal. He denied that last night [in the televised debate] and said that he had never taken that position.
Q: Here’s a clip of last night’s debate:
ROMNEY: My policy is, I have never talked about a timed withdrawal with a date certain for us to leave. That’s not the case. Simply wrong.
Q: And here’s a clip from ABC News on April 3:
ROMNEY: There’s no question but that the president and the prime minister, al-Maliki, have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about but those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone.
A: Let’s talk about our mission there. This is not just about strategy & allies. It’s not about oil. It’s not about just the economy. It’s not just about standing up for the fact that we’ve been there for a long time. It’s about human lives. What we’re doing in Iraq relates to protecting the lives of American citizens, here, around the world. It relates to lives throughout the world. It relates to dignity & freedom. We’re in Iraq because we want to make sure that Iraq does not become what Afghanistan was under the Taliban: a place that they could recruit and train and launch attacks against us on 9/11, and other attacks throughout the world. The last thing America could stand for would be to have Iraq become an Afghanistan. Fortunately, the surge is working. It’s going to keep that from happening. We’re going to have stability and security there and American lives will be saved by virtue of the extraordinary sacrifice of American servicemen.
A: Well, the question is kind of a non sequitur, if you will, or a null set. If Saddam had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no WMD, had Saddam not violated UN resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things. I supported the president’s decision based on what we knew at that time. I think we were under-prepared and under-planned for what came after we knocked down Saddam.
Q: But the question was, knowing what you know right now--not what you knew then, what you know right now--was it a mistake?
A: Well, I answered the question by saying it’s a non sequitur. It’s a hypothetical that I think is an unreasonable hypothetical. And the answer is, we did what we did; we did the right thing based on what we knew at that time. I think we made mistakes following the collapse of Saddam’s government.
ROMNEY: If Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no WMDs, had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated UN resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things.Romney is not alone in playing loose with the facts about weapons inspections. On at least 3 occasions in 2003, Pres. Bush has made the same claim. However, that the UN’s IAEA was not permitted to make inspections might come as a bit of a surprise to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, who reported on March 17, 2003, that “late last night I was advised by the US government to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad.” Inspectors had been in Iraq since November 2002. They remained until the UN Secretary-General ordered their evacuation on March 17, just three days before US and British troops invaded Iraq.
A: Well, I’m certainly not going to project failure, and those kind of circumstances that you would suggest would be projecting failure.
It is critical for us to remember that Iraq has to be considered in the context of what’s happening in the Middle East and throughout the world. There is a global jihadist effort. Violent, radical jihadists want to replace all the governments of the moderate Islamic states, replace them with a caliphate. And to do that, they also want to bring down the West, in particular us.
They’ve come together as Shi’a & Sunni & Hezbollah & Hamas & the Muslim Brotherhood & al Qaeda with that intent. We have to recognize that what we’re doing in Iraq has enormous impact on what’s going to happen in this global struggle. And so it’s critical for us to provide the stability to allow a central government to survive and thrive.
A: Well, if you wanted to have a president that just followed the polls, all we need to do is plug in our TVs and have them run the country. But that’s not what America needs. We need leadership that’s strong and that shows America what we can do to lead the world. With regards to Iraq, there are a lot of people that say, let’s just get out. I want to get our troops home as soon as I possibly can. But, at the same time, I recognize we don’t want to bring them out in such a precipitous way that we cause a circumstance that would require us to come back. Because if we leave in the wrong way, the Iranians could grab the Shia south, or al Qaeda could play a dominant role among the Sunnis--and, as a result, you could have regional conflict develop. But with that occurring, you could have our our friends get involved around Iraq, and we could have to come back again.
HUCKABEE: Did you read the article before you commented on it?
ROMNEY: I did read the article, the whole article. I did support the surge. But, look, Governor, don’t try and characterize my position.
HUCKABEE: Which one? (LAUGHTER)
ROMNEY: You know, we’re wise to talk about policies and not to make personal attacks.
HUCKABEE: Well, it’s not a personal attack, Mitt, because you also supported a timed withdrawal.
ROMNEY: I do not support and have never supported a timed withdrawal, so that’s wrong. My policy is, I’ve never talked about a timed withdrawal with a date certain for us to leave. That’s not the case. Simply wrong. I’ve also supported the troop surge, and I supported it on the same day the president brought it forward.
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