Presidential Debate II: For Romney, When A Bad Decision and Indecision Collide
It’s presidential debate season, with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney gearing up for round number two. Tonight is likely to be more of the same, with a twist. In addition to domestic issues, the candidates will tackle foreign policy. And the timing couldn’t be better.
Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush signed the “Iraq War Resolution.” We all know what happened next. Instead of finishing off Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda cronies in Afghanistan, President Bush decided to invade Iraq over “weapons of mass destruction” that didn’t exist. Making matters worse, he swept into Iraq without a plan for securing the peace. Instead of hammering out a concrete strategy, he crossed his fingers and hoped for the best.
But naïve hope doesn’t win wars and it doesn’t keep America safe. The Iraq war led to an explosion of terrorist violence across the globe, made Iran stronger by taking out their top enemy, cost trillions of dollars, and claimed the lives of over four thousand service men and women. This makes Iraq a critical litmus test for presidential contenders. You can tell a lot about a candidate by where he stood during America’s tumultuous involvement in Iraq.
Barack Obama’s position on Iraq has been clear and consistent for the last decade. Yes, the last decade. In October 2002, Barack Obama made headlines when he declared his opposition to President Bush’s headlong rush into Iraq. He even explained why he opposed the war: “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.”
As President, that’s exactly what Barack Obama did. And it led to the death of Osama bin Laden and twenty-two of al Qaeda’s top thirty lieutenants. As for Iraq, President Obama made good on his promise to end the war with honor. In other words, Barack Obama is a known quantity. What you see is what you get.
With Mitt Romney, what you see is what he gets from the polls. In October 2002 – the exact same month when Barack Obama denounced the Iraq war – Mitt Romney was on the campaign trail with President Bush. Eric Fehrnstrom, who is still a top aide to Mitt Romney, put it this way ten years ago: “Al Gore has been a critic to the president’s policies in regard to the war on terrorism, specifically on the plans with regard to Iraq. Mitt’s position is that he supports the president.”
In that spirit, Mitt Romney described the end of the Iraq war as “tragic” and denounced President Obama’s decision to withdraw troops. Then, characteristically, he sends a string of mixed signals. He insists that troops should have stayed, but he won’t say whether he would send them back to Iraq. That’s a contradiction.
Mitt Romney has had a decade to get his story straight on Iraq. He’s failed in that simple task. Ten years ago, he thought the Iraq war was a great idea. Today, we have no idea what he thinks. This combination of a bad decision and indecision should lead Americans to a clear decision: Mitt Romney isn’t ready to be Commander-in-Chief. President Obama ought to make this contrast clear tonight.
Matthew Rhoades is Truman’s Director of Legislative Affairs.