Mitt Romney on War & Peace
Former Republican Governor (MA)
A: No, I have the same view. We have helped the people of Afghanistan establish freedom from the Taliban. But now we are at a point where they are going to have to earn and keep that freedom themselves. This is not something we are going to do forever. We've been there 10 years. We've been training the Afghan troops. It's time for the troops of Afghanistan to take on that responsibility according to the time table established by the generals in the field. And those generals recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012. He took a political decision to draw them down faster than that. That is wrong.
ROMNEY: It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. I think we've learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban.
Q: Congressman Paul, do you agree with that decision?
PAUL: Not quite. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I'd bring them home as quickly as possible.
With all this history as a backdrop for their lectures to the young, jihadists have become quite confident in the knowledge that, time and again, we have underestimated their threat, their capacity to kill, and their steadfast resolve. This is a lesson they pass on to the young radicals in the making. Only in recent years has American resolve in Iraq and Afghanistan provided a counterexample of Western fortitude in the face of jihadist attacks.
Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat and declare defeat. And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.
ROMNEY: Unequivocably, absolutely no. I have never, ever supported a specific timetable for exit from Iraq. Sen. McCain pointed to an interview when I said that our president and their prime minister should have timetables and milestones. [When asked what I’d do with a bill with] a date specific to withdraw, I said I’d veto it.
McCAIN: Well, of course, he said he wanted a timetable. In April 2007, the buzzword was “timetables.” Governor, the right answer to that question was “no,” not what you said, that Maliki and the president should enter into some kind of agreement for, quote, “timetables.”
ROMNEY: Why don’t you use the whole quote, Senator?
MCCAIN: The actual quote is, “We don’t want them to lay in the weeds until we leave.”
ROMNEY: What does that mean?
MCCAIN: It means a timetable until we leave. If we weren’t leaving, how could the enemy lay in the weeds?
A: Well, he knows that is a dishonest statement. He knows that like him, I’m in favor of the troop surge. I’ve never suggested that we set a date certain to withdraw from Iraq.
Q: McCain is referring to an interview you did last April 3rd, when you were asked, “Do you believe that there should a be timetable in withdrawing the troops?“ You responded, ”Well, there is no question but that the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about.“ Does he have a point?
A: No, he doesn’t have a point. Those are the same kind of timetables we’re dealing with right now. For instance, in bringing our troop strength down by July, we bring down by five brigades. But I’ve never said that we should have a date certain to withdraw
A: I’m not sure that there’s a big difference on what we would do going into the future. There is a big difference on how we looked at it in the past. There were times when he believed that there should be a timed withdrawal. He denied that last night [in the televised debate] and said that he had never taken that position.
Q: Here’s a clip of last night’s debate:
ROMNEY: My policy is, I have never talked about a timed withdrawal with a date certain for us to leave. That’s not the case. Simply wrong.
Q: And here’s a clip from ABC News on April 3:
ROMNEY: There’s no question but that the president and the prime minister, al-Maliki, have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about but those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone.
A: Let’s talk about our mission there. This is not just about strategy & allies. It’s not about oil. It’s not about just the economy. It’s not just about standing up for the fact that we’ve been there for a long time. It’s about human lives. What we’re doing in Iraq relates to protecting the lives of American citizens, here, around the world. It relates to lives throughout the world. It relates to dignity & freedom. We’re in Iraq because we want to make sure that Iraq does not become what Afghanistan was under the Taliban: a place that they could recruit and train and launch attacks against us on 9/11, and other attacks throughout the world. The last thing America could stand for would be to have Iraq become an Afghanistan. Fortunately, the surge is working. It’s going to keep that from happening. We’re going to have stability and security there and American lives will be saved by virtue of the extraordinary sacrifice of American servicemen.
A: You sit down with your attorneys and tell you what you have to do, but obviously, the president has to do what’s in the best interest of the US to protect us against a potential threat. The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress.
Q: Did he need it?
A: You know, we’re going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn’t need to do, but certainly what you want to do is to have the agreement of all the people in leadership of our government, as well as our friends around the world. But the key thing here is to make sure that we don’t have to use military action against Iran. And that’s why we’re going to have to put a lot tougher sanctions on Iran, economic sanctions, credit sanctions, and treating Ahmadinejad like the rogue and the buffoon that he is.
A: I don’t have a time frame that I’ve announced. The surge is apparently working. If the surge is working, then we’re going to be able to start bringing back our troops levels slowly but surely, and play more of a support role over time. Ultimately, I would anticipate that we’re not going to have a permanent presence in Iraq, and we’ll be in a standby mode in surrounding nations.
Q: Do you see that support phase in 2008?
A: The timetable for that I hope will be as soon as possible. We all hope for that. But the question of timetable will depend upon how successful the surge is. And the key is, we don’t start pulling back troops; we don’t go into a support mode until we are successful with this surge and we are providing the security and the stability that we anticipate.
A: Well, clearly your hypothetical suggests that everything we’ve done, up until this point and beyond, didn’t work. And there’s a lot we can do to keep that scenario from occurring. Before you actually take military action, what you do next is this: the president meets with leaders, Republican and Democrat, to make sure we’re all on the same page. We want to make sure that Democrats sign up, that we’re all part of this on a unified basis. Number two, you meet with our allies around the world and make sure we’re on the same page on this, including China & Saudi Arabia. Now we take the military option off the table. When they see our military in our hand, a possible blockade or possible aerial strikes, they recognize we mean business. And that’s going to make them think twice and, hopefully, abandon their folly. Because it is unacceptable to the world for us to have a nuclear Iran.
A: Obviously, a hypothetical with all the potential permutations of what might develop is kind of hard to fashion, but if we’re making progress that suggests there’s a reasonable probability of success in stabilizing Iraq, that’s a course I’m going to follow. I get a chance to speak almost every week to people who’ve been there, who are non-partisan, and the response I’m hearing is that we seem to be making some progress there, albeit slow. That’s encouraging to me, because the consequence of withdrawing with a massive civil war breaking out and a regional conflict ensuing could have consequences for our nation and the world that are really quite frightening and perhaps cause us to come back again. A course of stability would be very, very encouraging, and I think there’s some signs that that’s what’s happening.
A: I think we’re pretty much in the same place. It is critical for us to win this conflict. It is essential, and that’s why we’re going to continue to pursue this effort. And we’re going to get a report from General Petraeus on the success. And I agree the Brookings Institution report over the weekend was a very encouraging indication that we’re making progress. That’s great news. At the same time, you look at that Democratic debate, I had to laugh at what I saw Barack Obama do. I mean, in one week he went from saying he’s going to sit down for tea, with our enemies, but then he’s going to bomb our allies. I mean, he’s gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week.
We have families who made a huge surge of sacrifice to support this surge. And it’s time, in my view, for the people of America to show a surge of support, including our leaders in Washington, for these families and for the troops.
A: Yes, I think Barack Obama is confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies. In his first year, he wants to meet with Castro & Chavez & Assad & Ahmadinejad. Those are our enemies. Those are the world’s worst tyrants. And then he says he wants to unilaterally go in and potentially bomb a nation which is our friend. We’re trying to strengthen Musharraf.
Q: But if the CIA said, “We had Osama bin Laden in our sights, Musharraf says no,” what do you do?
A: It’s wrong for a person running for the president to get on TV and say, “We’re going to go into your country unilaterally.” Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we keep our options quiet.
A: Well, the question is kind of a non sequitur, if you will, or a null set. If Saddam had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no WMD, had Saddam not violated UN resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things. I supported the president’s decision based on what we knew at that time. I think we were under-prepared and under-planned for what came after we knocked down Saddam.
Q: But the question was, knowing what you know right now--not what you knew then, what you know right now--was it a mistake?
A: Well, I answered the question by saying it’s a non sequitur. It’s a hypothetical that I think is an unreasonable hypothetical. And the answer is, we did what we did; we did the right thing based on what we knew at that time. I think we made mistakes following the collapse of Saddam’s government.
ROMNEY: If Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no WMDs, had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated UN resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things.Romney is not alone in playing loose with the facts about weapons inspections. On at least 3 occasions in 2003, Pres. Bush has made the same claim. However, that the UN’s IAEA was not permitted to make inspections might come as a bit of a surprise to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, who reported on March 17, 2003, that “late last night I was advised by the US government to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad.” Inspectors had been in Iraq since November 2002. They remained until the UN Secretary-General ordered their evacuation on March 17, just three days before US and British troops invaded Iraq.
A: Well, I’m certainly not going to project failure, and those kind of circumstances that you would suggest would be projecting failure.
It is critical for us to remember that Iraq has to be considered in the context of what’s happening in the Middle East and throughout the world. There is a global jihadist effort. Violent, radical jihadists want to replace all the governments of the moderate Islamic states, replace them with a caliphate. And to do that, they also want to bring down the West, in particular us.
They’ve come together as Shi’a & Sunni & Hezbollah & Hamas & the Muslim Brotherhood & al Qaeda with that intent. We have to recognize that what we’re doing in Iraq has enormous impact on what’s going to happen in this global struggle. And so it’s critical for us to provide the stability to allow a central government to survive and thrive.
A: Well, if you wanted to have a president that just followed the polls, all we need to do is plug in our TVs and have them run the country. But that’s not what America needs. We need leadership that’s strong and that shows America what we can do to lead the world. With regards to Iraq, there are a lot of people that say, let’s just get out. I want to get our troops home as soon as I possibly can. But, at the same time, I recognize we don’t want to bring them out in such a precipitous way that we cause a circumstance that would require us to come back. Because if we leave in the wrong way, the Iranians could grab the Shia south, or al Qaeda could play a dominant role among the Sunnis--and, as a result, you could have regional conflict develop. But with that occurring, you could have our our friends get involved around Iraq, and we could have to come back again.
GILMORE: We have to do everything that we can do to get this guy, because he is a symbol to the people who believe that they have a duty to destroy Western civilization.
ROMNEY: Of course we get bin Laden & track him wherever he has to go, and make sure he pays for the outrage he exacted upon America.
Q: Can we move heaven and earth to do it?
ROMNEY: We’ll move everything to get him. But this is not all about one person, because after we get him, there’s going to be another and another. This is a worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate. This is a global effort we’re going to have to lead to overcome this jihadist effort. It’s more than Osama bin Laden. But he is going to pay, and he will die.
A: The president is not arrogant. The president is not subject to a bunker mentality. The president has acted out of his desire to keep America safe. And we owe him a debt of gratitude for keeping this country safe over the last six years. He did the right thing in responding and reacting to the fact that we got attacked. And people now recognize: You attack America and there is a response. But we’re going to have to move our strategy from simply being a response to military threat with military action, to an effort that says we’re going to use our military and nonmilitary resources, combined with other nations who are our friends, to help move the world of Islam toward modernity and moderation. The new mission for NATO is to help provide the rule of law, education that’s not through madrassas, so the Muslims are able to reject the extreme and the terrorists.
HUCKABEE: Did you read the article before you commented on it?
ROMNEY: I did read the article, the whole article. I did support the surge. But, look, Governor, don’t try and characterize my position.
HUCKABEE: Which one? (LAUGHTER)
ROMNEY: You know, we’re wise to talk about policies and not to make personal attacks.
HUCKABEE: Well, it’s not a personal attack, Mitt, because you also supported a timed withdrawal.
ROMNEY: I do not support and have never supported a timed withdrawal, so that’s wrong. My policy is, I’ve never talked about a timed withdrawal with a date certain for us to leave. That’s not the case. Simply wrong. I’ve also supported the troop surge, and I supported it on the same day the president brought it forward.
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