Mitt Romney’s Most Dishonest Speech
When it comes to lies and half-truths, Romney saves his best stuff for foreign policy.
First, yes, there are strains in Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu—but they’re no more severe than the strains in Netanyahu’s relationship with his own military establishment. Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barack, said in a CNN interview two months ago, “This administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.” Many Israeli security officials think Netanyahu has gone way too far in his pressure on Obama. An American politician can support Israel’s security without supporting the Israeli prime minister in his own domestic quarrels—much less agreeing with everything he says.
“In Iraq,” Romney claimed, “the costly gains made by our troops are being eroded by rising violence.” This is true. But then he said, “America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence,” adding that Obama tried to secure a more gradual drawdown but “failed.”
The facts are these. First, President George W. Bush signed an agreement with the Iraqi government in November 2008 stating, “All U.S. forces are to withdraw from all Iraqi territory, water, and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.” Second, as the deadline neared, Obama did explore options to keep some of those troops in Iraq for a while longer—but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not want them to stay. Iraq was, and is, a sovereign nation. If Romney thinks he could have negotiated a deal to stay, he doesn’t say what it would have been. He can’t, because there was no such deal anywhere near the table.
Then came a gratuitously outrageous statement. “America,” Romney said, “can take pride in the blows that our military and intelligence professionals have inflicted on al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the killing of Osama bin Laden.” (Italics added.) Really? President Obama deserves no credit for dealing these blows? Obama has personally ordered many of these blows (as some in his own party have complained), and, as is well known, he ordered the raid on bin Laden’s compound against the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who thought it was too risky.
Romney followed this with the most stupefying attack in the entire speech, worth quoting at some length:
I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region—and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination. For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions, not just words, that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.
Obama has long been doing all of these things. He has ratcheted up sanctions and persuaded others (including Russia) to go along, to the point where Iran’s currency has plummeted by 40 percent, prompting the merchant class to protest in the streets. Two aircraft carriers have been on constant patrol within range of Iran since the summer. And U.S. security assistance to Israel, as its own defense minister said, is at near-peak levels.
Romney then pledged to boost defense spending, saying, “I will roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military.” He also claimed that the “size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916.”
Both statements are highly misleading. First, these “deep and arbitrary cuts” in the defense budget (he also calls them “catastrophic”) will go into effect only if Congress cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan. Last year, Congress agreed that if they couldn’t devise such a plan by the end of 2012, the entire federal budget—including defense—would be cut across the board. (Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, voted in favor of this pact.) Obama’s actual, existing military budget for next year—which amounts to $525 billion, plus $88 billion for overseas operations (in Afghanistan and elsewhere)—is only 1 percent below this year’s budget.
As for the Navy, a single modern aircraft carrier has enough firepower onboard to destroy 1,000 targets with impressive accuracy. To compare the might, range, and speed of today’s vessels with those of 1916 is absurd—and an insult to the Navy.
Romney neglected to note that his own budget plan calls for adding $2 trillion to military spending over the next 10 years. He may have sidestepped this fact—even though it might have appealed to his audience of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute—because, time and again, he has declined to specify how he will pay such a whopping bill. Nor has he specified why such increases are necessary: for what contingencies, against what enemies.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.