Debate-Watch: A Timeline For Mitt Romney’s Vague Foreign Policy Positions

Double Mitt Gum, for Candidates who like to chew from both sides of their mouth.Researching Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s foreign policy positions on the various topics covered in tonight’s third and final presidential debate — moderated by CBS’s Bob Schieffer and held in Boca Raton, FL — often felt like looking for a needle in a haystack. For all the verbiage Romney exhales, discovering his views on “America’s role in the world” proved challenging, to say the least.   Meanwhile, evaluating Mittens’ ever-changing positions on “Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan,”  “Red Lines – Israel and Iran,”  “The changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism,” and “The rise of China and tomorrow’s world” gave this writer a severe case of whiplash as the candidate careens wildly between bellicosity, vagueness, and friendly engagement.

As Ben Armbruster points out on, so aptly points out:

Mitt Romney has spent considerable effort trying to avoid foreign policy and national security this campaign season. But when he’s had to engage, he’s forced to strike a delicate balance between satisfying his neocon advisers and right-wing war base on the one hand — while speaking to the rest of the country, which has no appetite for the militaristic Republican policies that have plagued this country since 2001, on the other.

America’s role in the world

In the 2008 GOP presidential primary debates, Romney spewed forth some inane drivel about not apologizing for America. In 2012, Romney’s vision has matured into spewing forth some inane drivel about not becoming a welfare state like those cheese-eating surrender monkeys, the French, and the rest of Europe.

February, 2008: Given all that America has done to lift others from poverty, given the millions of afflicted we have helped to heal and comfort, and given the hundreds of thousands of lives of America’s sons and daughters that have been, and are today, sacrificed to defend freedom, I will not apologize for America! I don’t apologize for America because I believe in America. (Conservative Political Action Conference, Washington, DC)

January, 2012: “This is a time where we’re going to decide whether America will remain the great hope of the 21st century, whether this will be an American century, or, instead, whether we’ll continue to go down a path to become more and more like Europe, a social welfare state. That’s where we’re headed.” (GOP primary debate in Jacksonville, FL)

America’s role in the world should be to defend freedom, human rights, and democratic elections, except for employees of companies owned by Bain Capital and disenfranchised voters in swing states.

October 22, 2012: Well, I — I absolutely believe that America has a — a responsibility and the privilege of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that — that make the world more peaceful. And those principles include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections, because when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don’t vote for war. So we want to — to promote those principles around the world. (Third and final presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL)

Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan

We don’t need no stinkin’ Bin Laden …

May, 2007: “It’s not worth moving heaven & Earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” (On pursuing Osama Bin Laden. GOP Primary Debate at the Reagan Library, Simi Valley, CA)

But Barack Obama won’t go after Bin Laden either!

February, 2008: “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. (Conservative Political Action Conference, Washington, DC)

Now, we need to bring home the troops, let the Taliban take care of Bin Laden.

June, 2011: 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. […] 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.  (GOP primary debate, Manchester NH)

Oh wait, he DOES want us to go after the Taliban after all!

January, 2012: “These people have declared war on us. They’ve killed Americans. We go anywhere they are and we kill them.” (In response to question about negotiating with the Taliban to end fighting in Afghanistan at the GOP primary debate, Myrtle Beach, FL)

And, um, what exactly was that you just said in your white paper? I don’t quite understand.

2012: “Mitt Romney will never make national-security decisions based upon electoral politics. Upon taking office, he will review our transition to the Afghan military by holding discussions with our commanders in the field. He will order a full interagency assessment of our military and assistance presence in Afghanistan to determine the level required to secure our gains and to train Afghan forces to the point where they can protect the sovereignty of Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan under a Romney administration will be based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commander.” (White paper available from

So you’re endorsing Obama’s policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan now? Thanks!

October 22nd, 2012:“We’ve seen progress over the past several years … The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding at pace.” (Third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL)

Red Lines – Israel and Iran

“Red lines” refer to lines in the sand that Romney won’t allow Iran to cross. Anyway, I get that Mittens feels we shouldn’t “take options off the table” … but what does he want us to do with these options again?

June, 2007: “You don’t take options off the table. All over the world we’re seeing the same thing happening, and that is, people are testing the US. We have to make sure they understand that we’re not arrogant. We have resolve. And we have the strength to protect our interests and to protect people who love liberty.” (GOP primary debate, Manchester, NH)

Though calling Palestinians an “invented people” is definitely a “mistake.”

December, 2011: “I happen to agree with most of what the speaker said, except by going down and saying the Palestinians are an invented people. That I think was a mistake on the speaker’s part. I think the speaker would probably suggest that as well.” (GOP primary debate, Ames, Iowa)

And if those crazy Muslims in Iran say they don’t like the Jewish people, you’d better believe ’em.

July, 2012: “My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country. As Prime Minister Begin put it, in vivid and haunting words, ‘if an enemy of [the Jewish] people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.’ […] It would be foolish not to take Iran’s leaders at their word. They are, after all, the product of a radical theocracy.” (Speech in Jerusalem, Israel)

Romney won’t tolerate Iran having nuclear weapons.

September 7th, 2012: “My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon.” (Interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC)

Oh, wait, he meant that he won’t tolerate Iran having the CAPABILITY of building a nuclear weapon.

September, 20th, 2012: “With regards to the red line … for me, it is unacceptable for Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere… So for me, the red line is nuclear capability.” (Conference call with rabbis and Jewish leaders)

And Romney’s such a hawk, he’s going to take a little time-traveling jaunt to prevent Iran from acquiring the nuclear capabilities it ALREADY HAS!

October 8th, 2012: “I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.”

But really, he’d rather not talk about it …

October 21st, 2012: “Ready for football!” (In response to questions about whether he would engage in talks with Iran as president during a game of football between campaign staff and reporters on october 21st in Delray, FL. according to Emily Friedman of ABC News)

Be careful what you wish for …

October 22nd, 2012: “If Israel Is Attacked, We Have Their Back Not Just Diplomatically, But Militarily.” (Third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL)

The changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism

Let’s stop terrorism with some illegal wiretapping and racial profiling!

2005: Suggests that the FBI start wiretapping mosques and spying on recent Muslim immigrants. (from Tom Head’s 2008 Civil Liberties Guide on

Let’s take a stand against terrorism by denying the customary police escort to a visiting former Iranian president.

2006: “State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel,” (Explanation to press about his refusal to provide a police escort to the visiting former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami as Massachusetts governor)

Tracking down Osama Bin Laden? Meh.

May 3rd, 2007: “It’s not worth moving heaven & Earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” (On pursuing Osama Bin Laden. GOP primary debate, Reagan Library, Simi, CA)

But let’s go water boarding at Guantanamo!

May 15th 2007: “I’m glad they’re at Guantanamo. I don’t want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil. I don’t want them in our prisons. I want them there. Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo. And enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used — not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques, yes.” (GOP primary debate, South Carolina)

And now we’re back to “apologizing for America” again.

September 22nd, 2011: Very simple. You start off by saying that you don’t allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and your allies. The president went about this all wrong. He went around the world and apologized for America. […]. And with regards to Iran, which perhaps represents the greatest existential threat to Israel, we have to make it abundantly clear: It is unacceptable–and I take that word carefully–it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear nation. (GOP primary debate, Orlando, FL)

And now, let’s move people from oppression to freedom … maybe by sending their jobs overseas?

September 30th, 2012: The Arab Spring presented an opportunity to help move millions of people from oppression to freedom. But it also presented grave risks. We needed a strategy for success, but the president offered none. In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East–that is, both governments and individuals who share our values. This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability–and the regional instability that comes with it–is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us. And it means using the full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity for those who have for too long known only corruption and oppression. The dignity of work and the ability to steer the course of their lives are the best alternatives to extremism. (Romney’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal)

The world of Islam and this radical violent extremism which is REALLY not on the run …

October 22nd, 2012: “We’re — we’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the — the world of Islam and — and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism which is — it’s really not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding.” (Third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL)

And … KaPOW! If Obama closes Guantanamo, we’ll just INTERRUPT the terrorists.

Well, my strategy’s pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to — to kill them, to take them out of the picture.

On blaming sitting presidents for terrorist attacks

Okay, this isn’t a debate category, I just threw this in. Apparently, we should only investigate terrorist attacks when they happen on a Democratic president’s watch.

July 14th, 2004: “It’s very easy, it is extraordinarily easy to point fingers and say, ‘Why, this part of government knew this and it didn’t tell that part.’ And, ‘These people here haven’t learned that.’ […] trying to judge what happened pre-9/11 by post-9/11 knowledge is probably not terribly fruitful.” (2004 Press Club Luncheon in response to reports of intelligence failures under the George W. Bush administration leading to the 9/11 attacks)

September 12th 2012: “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” (September 2012 press release in response to news of the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya)

And speaking of Libya, let’s send our hearts and minds over to the dead people there.

October 22, 2012: We see in — in — in Libya an attack apparently by — well, I think we know now by terrorists of some kind against — against our people there, four people dead. Our hearts and minds go to them. (Third presidential debate, Boca Raton, FL)

The rise of China and tomorrow’s world

The emergence of Asia is a great opportunity!

December, 2006: “To remain the economic and military superpower, America must address competing with Asia. China and Asia are on the move economically and technologically. They are a family oriented, educated, hard-working, and mercantile people. We must be ready and able to compete. If America acts boldly and swiftly, the emergence of Asia will be an opportunity. Trade and commerce with these huge new economies can further strengthen our economy and propel our growth. If America fails to act, we will be eclipsed.” (Commonwealth PAC, “Meet Mitt”)

I love The People’s Republic of China! Let’s send our workers’ jobs over there!

March, 2010: The case for trade makes good economic sense–trade improves the wages and standard of living for the average citizen. But trade can disrupt and devastate those individuals directly affected. Owners and shareholders may lose money, of course. But it is the employees and managers, from the shop floor to the drifting tables to delivery trucks, who take the brunt of the pain. Trade is good for the nation and for the average citizen, but it is decidedly not good for everybody. (No Apology, by Mitt Romney, p.114-115)

Wait, maybe this China thing isn’t so great for America after all …

June, 2011: “My own view on the relationship with China is this, which is that China is stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our know-how, our brand names. They’re hacking into our computers, stealing information from not only corporate computers but from government computers. And they’re manipulating their currency. And if I’m president of the United States, I’m not going to continue to talk about how important China is and how we have to get along. And I believe those things. They’re very important. And we do have to get along. But I’m also going to tell the Chinese it’s time to stop. You have to play by the rules. I will not let you kill American jobs any longer.” (GOP primary debate, Manchester, NH)

China would be great, if only they’d stop cheating (of course the concept of “cheating” only means anything when both parties agree on the same rules).

July, 24th, 2012: It is in our mutual interest for China to be a partner for a stable and secure world, and we welcome its participation in trade. But the cheating must finally be brought to a stop. President Obama hasn’t done it and won’t do it. I will.” (VFW Conference, Reno, NV)

Take THAT! Neener, neener, neener!

October 16th, 2012: “I will label China a currency manipulator.” (Presidential debate, Hempstead, NY)

And stop stealing all the jobs my “former” company Bain Capital keeps sending over there:

October 22nd, 2012:  “I want a great relationship with China. China can be our partner, but that doesn’t mean that they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.” (Third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL)


Elisabeth Parker is a writer, Web designer, mom, political junkie, and dilettante. Come visit her at ElisabethParker.Com, friend her on facebook, or follow her on Twitter.