Mitt Romney, Language Cop

There were a number of strange moments in last night's debate, the most substantively meaningful of which was almost certainly Mitt Romney's declaration that "when I’m president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out [of Afghanistan] by the end of 2014." For the last year, Romney has been criticizing Barack Obama for having precisely this position, saying that we can't tell the enemy when we're leaving and our departure has to be determined by events on the ground. In the foreign policy version of Moderate Mitt, that apparently is no longer operative. But the oddest thing Romney said had to be this: "I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it."

As I've observed before, Romney's critique of Obama on foreign policy has always been primarily linguistic. He takes issue not with what the President has done, but what he has said. He apologizes for America! He didn't use the word "terror"! He isn't strong and resolute! But forced for the first time to actually have his foreign policy arguments probed and criticized, all of Romney's attacks on Obama fell away, and he ended up saying over and over that he agreed with Obama's policies.

So Romney's pledge about Ahmadinejad was perfectly in keeping with his language obsession. Since Romney seems to believe foreign policy is made by saying things and saying them strongly, it makes sense that he wants to see Ahmadinejad indicted for saying mean things about Israel. Interestingly enough, the UN's genocide convention does actually contain a provision allowing someone to be indicted for "direct and public incitement to commit genocide," but no serious person thinks that the kind of bluster Ahmadinejad engages in even remotely applies. And as the President of the United States, Romney wouldn't have the power on his own to bring anyone up before the International Criminal Court. But it's one of those bits of posturing that nobody, not even his own supporters, actually believes.

Like most Republicans, Romney has tried to paint Ahmadinejad as a terrifying menace, when in truth he is a buffoon who not only doesn't hold true power in his own country (Ayatollah Khamenei is the one in charge) but is leaving office in nine months. What are they going to do when they don't have him to kick around anymore?

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