Jacob Heilbrunn: Will Romney Discover His Inner Nixon?





Jacob Heilbrunn is senior editor at the National Interest.

This past May, Colin Powell appeared on the Morning Joe show to plug his latest book, It Worked for Me. One thing that did not appear to be working for Powell that day, however, was Mitt Romney's candidacy for the U.S. presidency. Losing his customary cool, Powell, one of the last realist grandees in the Republican Party (along with Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger), expressed his vexation with Romney's proclivity for encircling himself with neocon advisors, not to mention declaring Russia America's No. 1 geopolitical enemy. "C'mon, Mitt, think!" Powell said.
 
Since then, however, Romney has expressed few thoughts that would suggest he is cogitating along Powell's lines. Rather, as he prepares to accept the Republican nomination in Tampa, Florida, Romney will likely denounce President Barack Obama in his acceptance speech as a supine and feckless leader abroad as well as at home, further bolstering the belief that he has been captured by the neocons. Bereft of any real ideas about foreign policy, Romney, like George W. Bush, has become a vessel for some of the most retrograde ideas about foreign affairs that a Republican candidate has ever advanced. Whether the issue is Israel or China, Romney, who has cloaked himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, repeatedly espouses truculent stances that would likely mire America in new conflicts. He has declared that he would brand China a currency manipulator, stated in June on Fox News Radio that Russia remains a "geopolitical foe," and pandered to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And though Romney advisor and prominent neocon Elliott Abrams is arguing that a congressional resolution authorizing force against Iran would be a neat idea, Romney himself says that the president doesn't need any such authorization, but can just go for it. As the Nation warned in May, "a comprehensive review of his statements during the primary and his choice of advisers suggests a return to the hawkish, unilateral interventionism of the George W. Bush administration should he win the White House in November."
 
Or does it? Is what has rapidly become the conventional wisdom correct? Is Romney a plaything of the neocons? Or might he actually revert to a more moderate and pragmatic tradition of Republicans that began with Dwight Eisenhower (something that I myself was skeptical about in 2010 in Foreign Policy)? Might Romney, to put it bluntly, discover his inner Nixon?..


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