The Return of the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics

Until a few days ago, few people cared all that much what Mitt Romney thought about foreign policy. It isn't an area where he has any experience, or, let's be honest, anything in particular to say. His denunciations of President Obama's record have a kind of rote quality. There's nothing really substantive there, no attacks on any particular decisions Obama has made or initiatives he has undertaken. What it all consists of is the idea that Obama is weak, and "apologizes for America" (I'm not going to bother debunking that one again). But when Mitt goes off on that stuff, you can tell he's just doing it to satisfy the Sean Hannitys of the world and assure the Republican base that yes, I hate him as much as you do, and now let's talk about the economy.

But in every presidential race, there are external events that force the candidates to change their agenda, which is what has happened now. And yesterday The Washington Post published this article, in which we learn just how powerful Mitt Romney could be:

Advisers to Mitt Romney on Thursday defended his sharp criticism of President Obama and said that the deadly protests sweeping the Middle East would not have happened if the Republican nominee were president.

"There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation," Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser, said in an interview. "For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we've had an American ambassador assassinated."

Williamson added, "In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations—the respect for America has gone down, there's not a sense of American resolve and we can't even protect sovereign American property."

This eventually spawned the Twitter hashtag of the day, #Romneystrength, producing tweets like, "Lance Armstrong had all those titles taken away because he was caught using #Romneystrength." But my question is, do they really believe this? Romney's foreign policy has always been about symbolism, words more than actions—showing resolve, not apologizing, and so on. So do he and the people around him actually believe that if the president juts his chin out and squints his eyes like Clint Eastwood, then some militant somewhere will say, "You know what? I've really come to respect America. I think I'm not going to bomb that embassy after all."

I think maybe they do. Sure, part of it is reflexive Republican campaigning—you call the Democrat a tax-and-spender, you say he wants to help lazy poor and black people at the expense of hard-working whites, and when it comes to foreign policy you say he's weak and feckless. But I think they actually do believe that foreign policy is simple, and all that's necessary to make everything work out to our advantage in every situation is to be strong and resolute. Way back in 2006, Prospect alum Matt Yglesias termed this the "Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics" (the comic book hero Green Lantern gets his power from sheer force of will). It was George W. Bush's guiding principle, then it got picked up by John McCain, and now Mitt Romney is its proponent. And like many Republican ideas, it has a certain appeal until you actually have to apply it to a particular real-world situation, at which point it becomes obviously inane.

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