Political Animal


November 23, 2011 10:15 AM Remember, he’s supposed to be the smart one

By Steve Benen

In last night’s debate, AEI’s Katherine Zimmerman asked a perfectly good question:

“The United States adopted a policy of disengagement with Somalia after its retreat following Black Hawk down. Today, an al Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabab, controls significant territory in that country.

“What can the United States do to prevent Al Shabab from posing the same threat that al Qaeda did from Afghanistan 10 years ago?”

After Ron Paul took a crack at it, Wolf Blitzer asked Mitt Romney for his response. Here’s what Romney said:

“President Obama’s foreign policy is one of saying, first of all, America’s just another nation with a flag.

“I believe America is an exceptional and unique nation. President Obama feels that we’re going to be a nation which has multipolar balancing militaries. I believe that American military superiority is the right course. President Obama says that we have people throughout the world with common interests. I just don’t agree with him. I think there are people in the world that want to oppress other people, that are evil.

“President Obama seems to think that we’re going to have a global century, an Asian century. I believe we have to have an American century, where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.

“President Obama apologizes for America. It is time for us to be strong as a nation. And if we are strong, with a military and economy that are so strong, no one in the world will try and attempt to threaten us or to attack our friends.”

Is there any reason to think Romney has any idea what he’s talking about?

The question, which Romney presumably heard, was about Al Shabab in Somalia, and what the U.S. might do to address this potential threat. I realize this is a relatively sophisticated question, but the former governor’s response was to attack President Obama’s patriotism.

Worse, Romney continues to throw around the “apologize for America” garbage that’s plainly untrue.

And in the larger context, it’s the latest in a series of examples that suggest Romney is about as dumb when it comes to foreign policy as Herman Cain and Rick Perry, but he just fakes intelligence slightly more effectively.

Romney’s take on Iran is gibberish. His call for a trade war with China is hopelessly insane. He’s under the false impression that there are “insurgents” in Iran.

Worse, Romney keeps failing these tests. Remember the time Romney told ABC News he would “set a deadline for bringing the troops home” from Iraq — but only if it’s a secret deadline? How about the time Romney, more than four years into the war in Iraq, said it’s “entirely possible” that Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria prior to the 2003 invasion? Or the time Romney pretended “Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood” were all the same thing? How about my personal favorite: the time Romney made the bizarre assertion that IAEA weapons inspectors were not allowed entry into Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?

More recently, Romney tried to trash the New START nuclear treaty in an op-ed, prompting Fred Kaplan to respond, “In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and — let’s not mince words — thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty.”

None of this may matter much to voters, whose attention is focused on the economy, but for voters who take foreign policy seriously, Mitt Romney is a bit of a joke.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • kevo on November 23, 2011 10:27 AM:

    What a bunch of shit coming from his mouth - as though he's aiming at the electoral wall and seeing if it sticks!

    Mitt utters shit
    thinks it's a hit
    I don't like it a bit
    me thinks he's a nit . . . wit!

    Mitt - the Nit-Wit for Pres-i-dent! -Kevo

  • DAY on November 23, 2011 10:31 AM:

    I like apple pie. REAL AMERICANS like apple pie. I suspect that Obama prefers something "foreign", like peach cobbler. Or even skips dessert entirely, to set a "healthy" example for our nation's youth.
    When I am elected I will declare apple pie as our National Dessert, and mandate that it is served to our Brave Troops. Every day, to remind them what they are fighting for.

  • Joe Friday on November 23, 2011 10:36 AM:

    "Remember, he's supposed to be the smart one"

    But the bar is set SO DAMN LOW.

  • c u n d gulag on November 23, 2011 10:37 AM:

    I always have my English/Gibberish-Gibberish/English dictionary handy for these debates.

    Does anyone know if someone prints an

    There's an old expression in Russian that describes this.
    Translated, it says:
    "I'm a asking you about birds, and you're telling me about coats."

  • ComradeAnon on November 23, 2011 10:42 AM:

    And Herb would have said "I don't know. I'll find someone who does know." Oh, sorry, that was a response from a server at Godfather's Pizza.

  • jcricket on November 23, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Clearly, Romney's true gift is for sitting in conference rooms engineering the leveraged theft of companies who do not have enough cash on hand to defend against such a move, and then to sell off the assets, forcing them to lay-off employees and go bankrupt. All while charging the hapless entity outrageous management fees.

    This is how he earned his living when he wasn't playing in politics.

    Now, if any of these countries mentioned in the "debates" were in a position to be the victim of a leveraged buy-out and then be systematically raided for the value of their assets or resources, Romney would be able to bring some knowledge to the table. Maybe that is why he is fixated on the oil rich nations and knows nothing of anything else.

    As it is, he is bereft of any real foreign policy knowledge. It would also seem he is bereft of a soul as well.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on November 23, 2011 10:44 AM:

    There is no need for Mitt Romney, our next president, to be literate on foreign policy. All that is needed is to follow the advise of the neocons.

    There is no need for Mitt Romney, our next president, to be literate on economic and domestic policy. All that is needed is that he will follow the orders provided to him by our wealthy funding wing of the republican party.

    Therefore, we wholeheartedly endorse Mitt Romney for President of the United Corporations of Amerikkka.

  • Unstable Isotope on November 23, 2011 10:47 AM:


    You didn't even mention Romney's assertion that Hezbollah is in Latin America.

  • jjm on November 23, 2011 10:52 AM:

    Hopefully this ridiculous overexposure of the GOP aspirants through how many debates (13?), which the GOP wanted to allow them lots of time on center stage, is finally going to backfire. The media has been trying to turn them into 'stars' too--as when they lionize someone on a reality show.

    Why backfire?

    Because when you expose people with pea brains for being people with pea brains, you really can't expect people to keep on not noticing how abysmally stupid all of these people are, Newt included, but especially the very empty suit, Mitt Romney.

  • Bob M on November 23, 2011 10:52 AM:

    The solution is technological. A voice program would start the politician's answer with a prompt, "My solution to the Al Shabab problem is..." In this case, the answer is "President Obama". Correct.

    This solution is doable. I developed one in Java years ago for writing essays, and the transition to voice seems no problem these days.

  • Bobbo on November 23, 2011 10:55 AM:

    Details, details. I'm sure the pavlov's dogs in the audience erupted in wild applause when he used the buzzwords they have been trained so well to respond to.

  • Grumpy on November 23, 2011 11:00 AM:

    The only thing dumber than Romney's answer is a system of "debates" that are nothing but excuses for candidates to rattle off their talking points when the questioners stop talking.

    "Mitt - the Nit-Wit for Pres-i-dent! -Kevo"

    "Nitwit" rhymes with "preznit"

    Mitt no give me turkee.

  • zandru on November 23, 2011 11:07 AM:

    I'm With Bobbo

    The Republicoid audience appears to have little knowledge or experience with the Real World (a librul enclave). They were unaware that Newt Gingrich's prescriptions on foreign policy were total nonsense - the US will produce all the oil we need domestically, like we did in WWII?!? Oh, really... (see Juan Cole for a more detailed discussion.)

    Similarly, Romney used big words and jargon-like phrases. He hit all the right notes in ad-hominizing the President. What more does he need to do? "Answer the question"? - give me a break!

    Our only hope is that Americans as a whole are smarter and more knowledgeable. And if, at this moment in time, they're NOT - well, us folks in the Reality-based Community (which is NOT gated, btw) need to get off our couches and start doing some educating. Trust me - it beats simply whining about how stupid everyone else is.

  • Swellsman on November 23, 2011 11:14 AM:

    I may have mentioned this here once before, but I'll go ahead and repeat myself. The idea that IAEA inspectors were not allowed into Saddam Hussein's Iraq is considered to be absolutely true by the Republican base -- whom Romney is courting.

    When she appeared on The Daily Show, Condi Rice made exactly the same statement, sandwiched between a pack of other lies; Jon Stewart greatly disappointed me by failing to challenge her on that, but I was even more disappointed that this bald-faced lie didn't become the subject of discussion anywhere afterward.

    This is how the Republian Wurlitzer operates. They repeat outrageous lies continuously, and that somehow morphs into truisms that "everybody knows."

  • Quaker in a Basement on November 23, 2011 11:24 AM:

    Can anyone tell me what a "multipolar balanced military" means?

    I've heard multipolar used to describe international relations scenarios in which there are several nations competing for global influence. I've never heard it used to describe the military of a single country.

    What the heck is he talking about?

  • Danp on November 23, 2011 11:40 AM:

    We should all be somewhat comforted by the fact that clearly none of these debaters are using ear pieces, cue cards, or debate prep cramming techniques. They can't be, right?

  • sublime33 on November 23, 2011 11:40 AM:

    I am totally convinced that Mitt Romney will say absolutely anything to get one more vote. He would claim he was gay if he thought it might help. He would admit to being cut off from sex from his wife if he thought it would bring in votes. One of my favorite questions to ask someone who is politically involved is "if a Republican (or Democrat if a conservative) has to win the presidential election, but you get to pick the Republican, who would you pick?" Romney was my answer 4 years ago. I'm not sure about that any more, and that is against the Insane Clown Posse running this time.

  • Zorro on November 23, 2011 11:42 AM:

    [F]or voters who take foreign policy seriously, Mitt Romney is a bit of a joke.

    True enough. But, compared to the rest of the GOP field, he's Metternich.


  • CDW on November 23, 2011 11:47 AM:

    And here's the ready-made Dem ad:

    Romney says "America�s just another nation with a flag."

  • rrk1 on November 23, 2011 11:56 AM:

    This is nothing more than answering the question you wanted to be asked, and failing that you ignore the real question and go to your talking points. This is especially true when you don't know the answer. How much of a price do any of them pay for this shameless behavior? I would say, none.

  • TCinLA on November 23, 2011 12:08 PM:

    For voters who take anything seriously, Romnney is a joke - a bad one.

  • Neil B on November 23, 2011 12:26 PM:

    Way to go, Kevo!
    Mittens is just an empty suit to front for corporate interests. Just a smarter (technically, not "wisdom") and more (?) socially progressive Bush, as Perry is a less-so version. Pathetic.

    "Stockholm." - Syndrome, I presume ...
    "stop spam. read books." WTF do they have to do with "books"?

  • Ladyhawke on November 23, 2011 12:53 PM:


    That response reminded me of your typical Sarah Palin "WORD SALAD". It was just a jumble of sound bites strung together not in any particular order attempting to sound like he knew what he was talking about. All I could do was shake my head. The response was just gibberish.

    I can't wait for Willard's "Katie Couric" interview.

  • Paul Mason on November 23, 2011 1:30 PM:

    Romney's "torta amarilla" is his claim of Hezzbollah "throughout Latin America".
    This dangerous chicken hawk just essentially threatened an entire continent with interventionist policy.
    They won't stand for it and neither should we.

  • Kathryn on November 23, 2011 3:18 PM:

    This really is the Palinization of debates and interviews....her handlers started it by telling Palin not to answer the question just blab all your talking points no matter what they ask. Since our crack press is generally incompetent, it works like a charm. Romney response to the Somolia question made no sense, ignored the question and what price did he pay, no followup, just an idiotic word salad calling Obama un-American went unchallenged. I loathe this man more every day (Romney). If NBC is doing any of the presidential debates, time to start lobbying for Rachel Maddow to be a questioner.

    Wonder when or if Mitt will make himself available for a Sunday interview, at this point there may be some hope even Chris Wallace would ask him a tough question, wouldn't take much to trip him up.

  • Col Bat Guano on November 23, 2011 3:51 PM:

    This is all fine for the Republican debates, but how does he not get destroyed going up against Obama? If he tried this in a Presidential debate doesn't Obama just turn to the camera and say "Did anyone hear an answer to the question in there?"

  • MNRD on November 23, 2011 5:01 PM:

    Steve, this is a VERY important matter. Don't hesitate to place a strong emphasis on Romney's weakness on foreign policy, because of concerns that foreign policy won't matter much to voters in this particular election.

    Furthermore, Romney has chosen to fully embrace the bloated neo-con approach to foreign policy. Therefore, Romney has created a situation in which his foreign policy cannot be separated from his economic policy! Like Bush before him, Romney would squander a fortune on extravagant foreign military adventures without raising the revenue to pay for them!! The only difference is that Bush took the position that deficits don't matter, and Romney cannot take that position in the current conservative political climate! Romney's foreign policy does not add up ECONOMICALLY. Or, to put it another way, Romney's unpaid for foreign policy extravagance would devastate the ECONOMY!!

  • LL on November 24, 2011 11:14 AM:

    Mitt Romney is a bit of a joke.

    I realize the thread has more-or-less ended here, but I just had to invoke Hunter S. Thompson, who said--in his book "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: 1972"--roughly: a politician running for the Presidency of the United States is like a bull moose in heat. A bull moose with the worst case of blue-balls in the history of the world. A man who will sell his children into slavery and his mother for use as hamburger to win the White House.

    This is not an exact quote, but it's close. It's also completely accurate. Especially when it comes to Republicans, but applies virtually as well to Democrats. The point is that if you view Willard through this lens, his perfect amorality, and perfect dishonesty make perfect sense. It's clear to me, at least, that he would say and do just about ANYTHING to win the Presidency, and that is something to fear.

    The fact that he also seems profoundly stupid about anything and everything other than conservative religion and predatory hedge-fund management is hardly reassuring.

  • ASM on November 24, 2011 9:05 PM:

    JIm Lehrer spoke about this, the non-answers of candidates when he moderated Presidential debates. He recounts episodes in his book, Tension City, and in an interview that was broadcast on NPR (it may have been the Brian Lehrer show from WNYC, but I cannot come up with a link right now). Romney seems to be doing the same here.