From almost the moment Barack Obama took the oath of office, Mitt Romney has attacked the President for showing a lack of leadership on foreign policy and "apologizing for America." Now more than ever, it's Mitt Romney who owes President Obama and the American people some apologies. Four years after declaring his full-throated support for the invasion of Iraq as "the right decision," Romney now says "of course not." As for President Obama's daring raid to kill to Osama Bin Laden, a man Mitt announced in May 2007 was "not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch," Romney contended this week that "other presidents and other candidates like myself" would have done the same thing. Just not, it turns out, the version of candidate Romney from four years ago.
On August 1, 2007, then Senator Barack Obama delivered a major speech on foreign policy. In addition to pledging to unilaterally launch strikes against Bin Laden and other high-value targets in Pakistan, Obama promised he would ramp up the U.S. effort in the under-resourced effort across the border in Afghanistan. In July 2008, Obama explained:
"The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won't. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights."
Then in an October 2008 presidential debate with John McCain, Obama declared simply. "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority."
But from the beginning, candidate Romney like the GOP's eventual nominee John McCain not only opposed but mocked Obama's approach. While McCain blasted Obama's hard line on Al Qaeda's safe havens in the tribal areas ("Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan?"), Romney protested:
"I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours... I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort..."There is a war being waged by terrorists of different types and nature across the world," Romney said. "We want, as a civilized world, to participate with other nations in this civilized effort to help those nations reject the extreme with them."
That might seem like an incongruous statement coming from the same Mitt Romney who just weeks ago said of our "ally"Pakistan, "We need to help bring Pakistan into the 21st century, or the 20th for that matter." It's more comical still coming from the same Mitt Romney who this week told Chuck Todd of MSNBC that he now supports the very kind of operation to take out Osama Bin Laden he once opposed:
"I think in a setting like this one where Osama bin Laden was identified to be hiding in Pakistan, that it was entirely appropriate for this president to move in and to take him out," Romney replied, later adding that "In a similar circumstance, I think other presidents and other candidates, like myself, would do exactly the same thing."
(As it turns out, it wasn't just candidate Romney who got weak at the knees at the prospect of ordering unilateral U.S. strikes in Pakistan. In 2005, President Bush did as well, cancelling a special forces operation designed to "snatch and grab" Ayman Al Zawahiri and other senior Al Qaeda leaders.)
Of course, Romney's confusion about whether to respect or not respect Pakistani sovereignty may have something to do with his past reversals about whether or not killing Osama Bin Laden even mattered:
In May 2007, Romney alarmingly - and erroneously - equated Sunni and Shiite, friend and foe, the guilty and the innocent across the Islamic world.
"But I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate."
Even regarding that "one person, Osama Bin Laden," Romney struggled. After insisting in May 2007 that "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person," Romney reversed course just three days later and declared of Bin Laden, "He's going to pay, and he will die."
Of course, four years ago Mitt Romney felt pretty good about killing Saddam Hussein, too. As Byron York noted, during a January 2008 GOP debate, Romney was asked, "Was the war in Iraq a good idea worth the cost in blood and treasure we have spent?" Mitt's response?
"It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now."
Now in 2011, Multiple Choice Mitt is not so sure. The answer now depends:
"Well, if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction -- if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in."
Needless to say, over the past four years nothing has changed on that point: Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction have not since magically appeared.
Then again, neither has Mitt Romney's backbone.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)