The Campaign Spot

Does Romney’s Verbal Caution About the Surge Have Deep Roots?

Is Mitt Romney’s caution about describing the success of the surge stem from watching his father get crucified over his inital support, and subsequent backtracking, on Vietnam?
Romney’s “if the surge is working” and “the surge is apparently working” brought him a great deal of grief from Senator McCain during the debate.
Why might a man like Mitt Romney – who once reviewed receipts to determine if businesses spent more or less on office supplies than they claimed before investing in that sector — prefer to see the Iraq data for himself? Why might he be a bit cautious about confident assertions of success in war? Why might he want a bit more than a general’s assurance that efforts are proceeding apace? 

Perhaps we can find the answer in Time magazine, Sep. 15, 1967:

Last week, during a Labor Day interview on Detroit’s WKBD-TV, Commentator Lou Gordon wanted to know how [Michigan’s Governor George] Romney squared his current conviction that the U.S. should never have got involved in Asia with the comment he made after a tour of the war zone in November 1965 that “involvement was morally right and necessary.”


Replied Romney: “When I came back from Viet Nam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Viet Nam.”


Gordon: By the generals?


Romney: Not only by the generals but also by the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job, and, since returning from Viet Nam, I’ve gone into the history of Viet Nam, all the way back into World War II and before that. And, as a result, I have changed my mind… 


Two days after making his comment, Romney appeared in Washington, where newsmen gave him a chance to get off the hook by asking whether he might have been misunderstood. “I was not misunderstood,” he snapped. “If you want to get into a discussion of who’s been brainwashing who, I suggest you take a look at what the Administration has been telling the American people.”


With that, he whipped out a newspaper clipping in which Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara was quoted as saying, just before the 1966 election, that draft calls might be cut the following year. “The information was not accurate,” said Romney. The Pentagon quickly replied that “it is the Governor who is giving inaccurate information,” noting that draft calls for the first ten months of 1967 are down 136,840 from the 1966 total. Said McNamara: “I don’t think Governor Romney can recognize the truth when he sees or hears it.”


Perhaps the unkindest cut of all, because of its unintentional but magnificent ambiguity, came from Leonard Hall, chairman of the Romney for President committee. “I think it finally comes down to an issue of credibility between Governor Romney and Secretary McNamara,” he said. “And given that choice, I have no doubt whom the American people will support.”

We are all products of our upbringing. One can’t help but wonder whether a young Mitt Romney, watching his father become widely mocked over a poor word choice — but seeing many Americans come around to the perspective that, on balance, the United States probably should not have gotten ground troops involved in Vietnam — learned to verify what he is told by a Defense Secretary and generals.

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