Romney’s Theory Of “Provocative Weakness”

Ambinder deciphers it:

[I]t is worth taking a brief tour through the Museum of Provocative Weakness. That phrase is a favorite of Ambassador John Bolton, who said on August 28 that Romney "doesn't believe strength is provocative, he believes that American weakness is provocative." It has been used many times by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. After the decision had been made to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld told ABC News that it didn't really matter if a war enrages Arab populations in the Middle East. "All I can say is if history has taught anything, it's that weakness is provocative. It entices people into doing things that they otherwise would not do." When Rumsfeld was fired by President Bush three years later, he used his final turn at the podium to say that "it is not only clear that weakness is provocative, but [that] the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative."

This phrase is the beating heart of Mitt Romney's world view. You can see it in his books. You can hear it whenever he condemns President Obama for his "apology tour." In practice, this means that whenever America has a choice about whether to demonstrate its will to power, it ought to exercise it. Anything else would telegraph weakness, a lack of resolve, that tips the balance of power in the world away from the good guys.

In business, I can see the logic of this. But in diplomacy and foreign policy? Romney doesn't understand that restraint can also be a form of strength; that exercizing power incompetently can weaken a country's power; that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars deeply wounded America in human and fiscal terms, with minimal long-term gains to offset these massive short-term losses.

I can see why a decade and a half ago, you could hold these views. I was not as far out as Romney is, but after the triumph in the Cold War, cockiness got the better of me. But I cannot see how you can maintain this worldview after the Bush-Cheney debacle. But that is what we are learning about Mitt Romney: his foreign policy mind hasn't changed since the 1970s. The last decade changed nothing. His foreign policy adventures as a candidate – from alienating our closest ally, the UK, to ceding US Middle East policy to the far right in Israel, to his latest implosion on the embassies in Libya and Egypt – renders him as reckless a choice in dealing with abroad as George W. Bush.

His obtuseness is dangerous. It is a gift to America's enemies and a threat to our friends.