Few things are as offensive or aggravating as having your intelligence insulted, especially if you get the sense that the guy doing the insulting feels like he's debasing himself by the ruse. Meet Mitt Romney, as revealed by Robert Draper in the New York Times Magazine.
The Romney that Draper discovers is a man in full. Super-smart, super-competent, super-inquisitive. "Two advisers recall a meeting in the summer of 2008 at which Romney cited as a literary inspiration a book that had been on his mind," Draper recounts, "about the decline of France following the mass protests of the 1960s — and then proceeded to translate it aloud from French."
That's impressive, and for multiple reasons. Mitt Romney isn't just the sort of person who can spot-translate a book. He's the sort of person who would inquire about the sources of French declinism after the tumult of the 1960s. He's the sort of person who would do so to wonder about the lessons that experience might pose for the United States. That makes him a bright man, and, on the face of it, a rigorous thinker.
What did he do with that intellect? He churned out a 2009 campaignifesto on foreign policy called "No Apologies." Draper calls it an example of how Romney's "intellectual vigor gives ground to political calibrations." That's being so, so charitable to "No Apologies." I reviewed it when it came out, and it's beyond juvenile. For instance:
“Violent jihadist groups come in many stripes across a spectrum,” Romney writes, “from Hamas to Hezbollah, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda.” But al-Qaeda exists because it considered the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt too accommodating of the Egyptian government; Hamas has literally fought al-Qaeda attempts at penetrating the Gaza Strip; and Sunni al-Qaeda released a videotape just this weekend that derides “Rejectionist Shiite Hezbollah.” There is absolutely nothing that unites these organizations in any programmatic manner except Romney’s ignorance, and the expansion of ignorance is insufficient to topple an American superpower.
The comparison between American and Russian or Chinese global power is less obviously stupid than between that of the “violent jihadists.” But that is not saying much. The amalgamation of Wikipedia-level facts about Chinese economic and military growth and renewed Russian assertiveness “No Apology” provides does little more than demonstrate that the Chinese are modernizing and the Russians again desire a prominent global position. But the U.S.’s military advantage over the Russians and the Chinese is massive, and will remain massive for decades. In 2008 alone, the U.S. spent over $700 billion on its military. China spent $122 billion and Russia spent $70 billion. At one point in the text, Romney is forced to concede that the Council on Foreign Relations wrote that until at least 2030 there is “no evidence to support the notion that China will become a peer military competitor of the United States.”
I had, and have, a hard time squaring the Romney of "No Apologies" with the Romney who seems so competant and pragmatic -- if assembled by committee -- on domestic or economic policy. I figured that Romney would jettison the book's aggressive no-nothing-ism now that he's the only grownup left standing for the GOP nomination. But nooooooooooo.
This just doesn't smell right. The man who can spot-translate French to search for historical lessons about weighty meta-issues in civic and geopolitical culture does not also believe that diplomacy should the province of military super-viceroys. He does not also believe that there is an undifferentiated Islamist menace. He most certainly does not believe that the Russkies are coming.
But he does believe that Americans will not elect a president who can spot-translate French to search for historical lessons about weighty meta-issues in civic and geopolitical culture. And so this is what he pretends to be. All while he claims that Obama has insufficient respect for America.