Neo-Con Redux: Romney in Virginia

President Barack Obama’s sin at the first Presidential debate was one of misunderstanding the rules. The rules, that is, of theatre. American presidential politics has for at least two generations been a matter of the forced smile, the folksy refrain, the false sense of interest in the people. But when he decided to treat Romney as a sparring partner at a school debate, or at the very least a village idiot’s gathering, he came across as “detached”. The hideous reaction to the President’s disinterested behaviour has spawned a host of impromptu advisors seeking a retainer with the President. Please Mr. President, we are here to help you deceive.

The age of ramped up deception is certainly upon us. Mitt Romney chose to tell his audience at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington that he is keen on aping an old neoconservative platform. He chose, with a certain degree of ill-informed guise, the words of George Marshall. “The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it.” This is hardly believable, but then again, this is Mitt, a person so malleable as a gummy character he is hard to pin down.

The world is a terrifying place for Romney, but he is happy to shed light upon the darkness and add a rudder to a directionless war machine. He speaks of “mobs” shouting “Death to America” across the globe. “As the dust settles, as the murdered are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown so much worse, and what this calls on America to do.” Naivety has its place, but not here.

Behind the shoulder of Romney remain neoconservative pressures that are becoming all too familiar. Complex rules of realpolitik are matters of inhibition for the dark arts of neoconservative philosophy. The freedom game, something America exports with spectacular, bloody ineptitude, is starting to find voice in the Romney arsenal. “Statesmen like Marshall rallied our nation to rise to its responsibilities as the leader of the free world. We helped our friends to build and sustain free societies and free markets.” Such atrocious simplicity shows Romney’s vision – stuck somewhere after the drafting of George Frost Kennan’s Long Telegram and before Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative.

Romney scolds the President for ignoring American exceptionalism (something that all President’s irritatingly harp on about). He bristles at Obama’s laxity towards Iran. “It has never posed a greater danger to our friends, our allies, and to us.” “Gains” made in Iraq were being “eroded” by an “insurgent Al-Qaeda, the weakening of democracy in Baghdad, and the rising influence of Iran.” That is not so much Obama’s failing as the exporting of democracy, a decidedly unreliable capital in foreign “markets”.

This is a just a sprinkling of military omens in Romney’s Lexington show. Syria’s bloody conflict demands attention. Russian strength must be countered. Romney wants a more active NATO, with member states setting aside 2 percent of their GDP. When budgets for militaries should be slashed and social programs improved, Romney wants the gun toting establishments rewarded. To excite the military professionals, he promises more blood. “Drones and the modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security for the Middle East.”

Such terrible things happen when people and nations start seeking justice – notably when it comes to doing it to others. And Romney’s label as he starts to gain some sense of traction against the President, is proving to be a tired one – delusionary exporter of freedom, and the bloody hand of more foreign wars.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: bkampmark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Binoy.