Mitt Romney, nationalist

Mitt Romney’s response to the attacks against the U.S. in Egypt and Libya has provoked new interest in the question of where, as a general matter, Romney stands on foreign policy matters. In the pro-Obama MSM, this interest takes the form of arguing that Romney is, hide the children, a “neo-con.”

Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post takes this tack in an article called “Romney’s attacks on Obama foreign show neocons’ dominance.” Horowitz never bothers to tell us what he means by “neoconservative,” and it’s not clear that he knows.

Actually, there is nothing neoconservative about Romney’s response, which consisted of criticizing a statement that he thought (as I do) “sympathized” with those who carried out attacks against the U.S. The State Department claims that it had problems with the same statement and President Obama ultimately rejected it. Does that make Obama a neoconservative?

The case that Romney’s reaction was neoconservative (if Horowitz had cared to present one) would have to rest on the candidate’s statement that is “a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.” But this sentiment is not confined to neoconservatives. Romney’s articulation of it is so widely shared that no politician, including Obama, would publicly advocate its negation — i.e. that it is sometimes a good course for America to apologize for its values.

Those who see neocons under their bed, or who exploit the term for ulterior motives, are missing a key point: unwillingness to apologize for American values is not the same thing as being willing to impose them on others through military, or even political, action.

Horowitz also errs by dividing the world of foreign policy analysis into only three schools: isolationist, realist, and neoconservative. As Robert Merry argued in his book Sands of Empire, there is another option: nationalist. (Merry, himself something of a neocon baiter, considers Romney a neoconservative, but that’s a topic for another post). Merry correctly identifies former Vice President Cheney and former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as nationalists (though he seems to think they were “captured” by the neocons). Ronald Reagan was the quintessential nationalist.

Romney’s expression of disgust with the initial U.S. position on events in Egypt reflects pure nationalism, and nothing more. It is almost precisely the reaction we would expect from Reagan. It is, one hopes, the reaction of most Americans even after decades of indoctrination by an anti-nationalist education system.

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