District of Corruption

Mr. Perfect


While I've always understood but disagreed with the internal logic of liberalism, I've always assumed that neocons were either ethnic activists (The Weekly Standard) or fools (John McCain). So even though he was a major candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, I never suspected that Mitt Romney was one. Too handsome, too smart, too genteel, too much of a gentile. Because of this, Romney's campaign policy book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, especially the first four chapters dealing with foreign policy, ended up being a let down for me.

The neoconservative (by now I think we would just call it "conservative" if it didn't sound like an admission of defeat) has a somewhat plausible explanation of world history. From the beginning of time until 1945, nations were always fighting one another. For the neocons, the pre-1945 world is the pre-1960s Dark Age of the Left. Since the end of World War II, the world has been lucky that the only superpower in the world is by far the most moral. Because America has been willing to take responsibility for the defense of all other freedom-loving nation, we're lucky enough to have been living in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Just how much better than the rest of the world does Romney think America is? After pointing out that the U.S. could easily crush her enemies and seize their resources, he writes, "So deep is restraint and goodness etched in our collective character that the abuse of power is never even on the table or in the back of our minds."

The U.S. must support liberal democracies everywhere and always. While the Muslim extremist divides the world into dar al Islam (House of Islam) and dar al harb (House of War), for the neocons there's dar al democracies and dar al tyranny. The main enemies are radical Islam, Russia, and China. Romney wants the U.S. to be stronger than China in East Asia and stronger than Russia in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses. He recommends fast tracking the ex-Soviet satellites into NATO without spelling out that that could potentially mean nuclear war and render all his domestic policy irrelevant.

Romney thinks that the American empire, with its "military forces in about 150 countries around the world" according to the Brookings Institute, simply isn't doing enough abroad. "Besides assistant secretaries and State department bureaucrats," he asks, "who in the United States is charged with thinking about Lebanon every day?" Why, if someone wanted to build a school or clinic in that country, the former Massachusetts governor complains, he would have to get approval from Congress! Such a state of affairs is unacceptable.

As a matter of fact, the American government should appoint a sort of governor for each part of the globe.

The world should be divided into regions, preferably the same regions as those of the military.  One individual-only one-would have responsibility to lead the promotion of democracy, freedom, stability, and free enterprise in that region...

Ever year, an independent agency would gauge progress in that region using defined metrics and then report to the nation whether and to what extent the envoy was succeeding.  The envoy would be given a budget, and he or she could call on the resources of federal agencies and departments to support the effort, using previously authorized budget dollars to compensate that department.

Romney doesn't stop to consider that maybe it hasn't been American power that's been responsible for our era of relative peace, but any one of a handful of other factors. After all, the end of WWII happened to coincide with the invention of nuclear weapons, which ruled out war between major powers. The Flynn effect has led to smarter world leaders and in our more technologically developed world wealth is based less on land and more on knowledge. Also, increased international trade has created incentives for peace and the world media works to isolate and shame aggressors. The reasons for the decline in conflict between great powers are complex and can't simply be broken down to the foreign-policy establishment in Washington. It's particularly strange to hear conservatives claim that the federal government is too incompetent to, say, set national education standards but has been responsible for a golden age of peace.

I remember talking to a Moroccan-American who taught Arabic for the U.S. Army. He was telling me that the government didn't have many speakers of the language. To learn a tongue that difficult takes a very high IQ and even then it can only be done with years of constant attention. If it's true that the U.S. lacks speakers of a major and important language like Arabic, I wondered, how many people in our government did he think spoke Serbian and knew what was going on in that country before we went in and bombed it? "Probably nobody," he replied. Would it be un-American to suspect that Bill Clinton began bombing to distract the public from his personal indiscretions? Why, it would, according to Mitt Romney, because no American would ever even consider putting his own interests before those of the dar al Democracies.

The second part of No Apology focuses on domestic policy and isn't half bad. The author explains that high health care costs are caused not by the free market, but a system that incentivizes waste. Imagine a broadband market in which a third party chooses your provider and pays them. The provider then decides what services you need and how much to charge. Eventually you're going to end up with a lot of bells and whistles and a big bill. Since the consumer pays a flat deductible with most health insurance plans, after a certain point there's no reason to shop around or ever say, "Well, I don't really need that."

A better system would pay doctors a flat fee for each patient, who themselves pick up a percentage of the cost rather than a set amount. The Republican has a basic philosophical difference with the Left, which believes that too much capitalism and greed are causing health insurance to be unaffordable. As a matter of fact, no part of the economy has seen more government meddling than health care.

Romney's chapter on education has some good ideas despite the Leftist creationism ("It is not a coincidence that student achievement scores by ethnicity mirror the rates of out-of-wedlock births."  You don't say...) The teachers' unions oppose merit pay and higher salaries for math and science teachers. They instead support reforms like smaller class room sizes, which increase the amount of work they have but have been shown not to make a difference in student performance. On immigration, we get the usual conservative formula of legal + skilled = good and illegals = bad. The Hispanicization of the country is accepted as fait acompli, however, and the need to close the achievement gap seen as vital for America's future.

There are a few reasons that Romney might not win the Republican nomination: mainly he's Mormon, a flip-flopper, and comes across as too perfect. But all that may not matter. After all, had John McCain not been around, Romney would've been the nominee in 2008. And the 2012 field looks just as bad. He doesn't have to convince voters that he's their soul mate, but just gather more votes than Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee. It's hard to see who else is going to pull it off.

By the end of his book, I wanted to like Romney again. Domestically at least, America would probably be a freer and better country if he became president. Still, my revulsion for his foreign policy would probably stop me from ever voting for him. At a time when true conservative movements are succeeding all over Europe, the last thing the West needs is Washington's definition of "human rights" militarily dominating the globe. As a matter of fact, Romney may prove so competent an executive that he prolongs the inevitable decline of the empire.