Politics & Policy

Asking Mitt

An interview with Governor Romney.

It’s only Wednesday, but already it’s been a busy week for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is, of course, currently running for the Republican nomination for president. Since Monday, he held a press conference denouncing Hillary Clinton’s much-discussed national health-care plan, wrote a letter urging U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to bar Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from addressing the U.N., and unveiled a 68-page policy document titled, “Strategy for a Stronger America.” On Tuesday, Romney spoke with National Review Online about his week so far.

“Strategy for a Stronger America” lays out dozens of Romney’s policy proposals on every issue from radical jihad to federal spending but says very little about the most important issue on the national agenda for the foreseeable future, Iraq. Iraq does not get its own chapter, and the only place it is discussed in detail is in the context of a broader article Romney wrote for the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs and included here.

“We’re in an active front in Iraq as part of the global war against violent jihadism,” Romney says, explaining why the document doesn’t address Iraq in greater detail. “We’re going to be receiving information day to day, month to month from the commanders in the field, just as we did with the report of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. The information they give us will adjust our timing with regard to our strategies on a regular basis.”

Romney defers to General Petraeus’s view of Iraq, citing his recommendations several times during our conversation. The progress that Petraeus has reported, Romney says, “has led General Petraeus to say that we can begin to bring troop strength down by about one brigade a month beginning next year.

“We’ll keep getting regular reports,” Romney says, “But clearly, my view is that we’re going to go through a series of phases here in Iraq. The first is the one where we’re playing the front-line responsibility, the lead role. Ultimately that’s moving more towards what [Petraeus] calls an ‘overwatch’ responsibility or more of a support role. Sometime in the more distant future we’re going to have us playing a standby role where our troops are by and large in other nations and standing by as called upon.”

Petraeus, Romney says, will “guide the timing and the process whereby we have the right troop strength and the right missions as needed in Iraq.”

Romney sounded more certain when the discussion moved to Iran. I asked him about his letter to Ban Ki-moon, requesting that the newly-elected secretary-general revoke Ahmadinejad’s invitation to address the U.N. General Assembly next week. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to ask the U.S. State Department simply to deny Ahmadinejad a visa?

“The invitation was extended by the secretary-general, and that’s the first place where, in my view, the invitation should be withdrawn,” Romney says. He repeated another point he made in his letter to Ban Ki-moon, which is that Ahmadinejad should be indicted for inciting genocide against the people of Israel.

“I will certainly make that point, to anyone who will listen, frankly, that this is a person who ought to be indicted under the Genocide Convention,” Romney says, “and the reason for that is that I want to communicate to him but also to the people of Iran that he is a rogue actor — that his posture and his course for Iran is a dangerous course, and that the world rejects this man and his agenda.”

I asked Romney at what point he would consider moving beyond sanctions to military action against Iran. He says, “It is essential for us… ultimately to build the kind of consensus in this country and among our friends that would allow Ahmadinejad to recognize that the military option is not just on the table, it’s in our hand.

“The more support and the more confidence that exists in such a plan on the part of the world, the more Ahmadinejad will recognize the peril of his current posture,” he says.

Romney has also made headlines for his vocal criticism of the health care plan Hillary Clinton rolled out this week. Some observers have pointed out that Hillary’s plan looks awfully similar to the one Romney himself helped enact as governor of Massachusetts.

“My view in Massachusetts was, here’s a good plan for our state,” Romney says. “It’s not necessarily a good plan for everybody else’s state. So my view is, the federal government should give each state the financing flexibility they gave us to allow each state to craft their own plan.

“Now, if they want to copy parts of what Massachusetts did, fine,” he says. “If they want to create an entirely new plan of their own, that’s fine too. But let the states develop their own plans that match the needs of their own populations — not a one-size-fits-all HillaryCare solution.”

Finally, I asked Romney about his strategy of depending on wins in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where he is leading in the polls, to catapult him to a lead in the national polls, where he is near the bottom. Romney cited a number of historical cases in which candidates who trailed in national polls until winning early primaries, but I asked him whether this year’s compressed primary scheduled had changed the game, making early primary wins less important.

“Actually, I think the early contests are more significant than they’ve been in the past, in part because they come so quickly prior to the Super Tuesday,” Romney says. “If somebody does well in the early primaries it would be very hard for someone else to try and reverse that momentum — just not enough time to raise the funds and go up on TV and try and change the momentum.”

Listen to the NRO podcast with Mitt Romney by clicking on the player below, or download the MP3 by clicking here.

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