Mitt Romney as Secretary of State? Have no Fear!
When a presidential candidate wins the nomination, Americans play a game: Veepstakes…who will the nominees pick as their running mate?
When a president is elected, the entire American political world convenes to play a second game: Put together a cabinet. The most coveted job openings in the world are available at the same time, and the political vultures and their advocates are circling in the air above the capital, eagerly waiting for the plum positions.
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Perhaps no position is more coveted than Secretary of State. What was originally deemed to be a two-horse race between hawkish ex-ambassador John Bolton and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani has now expanded in the most unthinkable of ways.
News has broken that both South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney are being considered. Both are surprising because Haley and Romney were among Trump’s most strident critics during the entire nomination process.
At this point, it would appear that all bets are off.
In the last 10 days since Trump’s “surprise of the century” election, a war has been brewing within the Republican Party. Nowhere has this war been more evident than in the jostling for influence in the Trump administration. The main three parties to this “war” of sorts include the Republican establishment (represented by moderate party leaders such as John McCain and John Kasich), the neoconservative movement (largely represented by such figures as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions), and the paleoconservative/libertarian wing of the party (represented by such figures as Rand Paul and Pat Buchanan).
The fact that Mitt Romney may be emerging as the front-runner for Secretary of State may sit well with the mainstream and neocon wings of the party, but be alarming to paleoconservatives and libertarians.
The defining event of our generation in terms of foreign policy was the Iraq War. Hindsight is of course 20/20. But unfortunately, the vast majority of Republicans, and many Democrats, were blissfully ignorant of the incredible dangers of toppling a secular dictator in the one of the world’s most volatile areas. Ron Paul used the invasion of Iraq to galvanize a libertarian/paleoconservative opposition to the war. While his 2012 presidential campaign ultimately faltered, it did present the principles of libertarianism to an entire generation of young people. Now that mantle is carried by his son, Rand Paul.
Fastforward to November, 2016. Libertarians, rightly, may be concerned about Mitt Romney. Why? His potential to return to the kind of nation building and foreign military adventurism that has gotten us into some much trouble over the past 16 years. But my message for you is this: Give Mitt a chance.
Ultimately the Secretary of State represents the president. Mitt Romney will have some degree of independence and flexibility if he does, indeed, receive the position. But ultimately, only the president can call American troops into action. Trump has given encouraging signs, particularly with regard to our geopolitical policies in Russia and East Asia, that he plans to be a less militant president than Bush and Obama.
Mitt Romney is a center-right political figure, much in the same vein as a David Cameron or a Angela Merkel. He is not an ideologue. He wants to be liked. He wants to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats. His healthcare reform plan in Massachusetts, for example, has often been cited as a model for ObamaCare.
Romney is not perfect, but he is well respected. His personal life has been impeccable. He is an honest, hardworking, devout, practical, and pragmatic man who has done well in business and politics. Virtually everything he has touched has turned to gold, starting with his majestic turnaround of a faltering Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. He is widely respected, even by Democrats. His appointment as Secretary of State would usher in a period of collective calm worldwide.
Now, you might argue, wait a minute? Trump has built his entire candidacy around being the most anti-establishment figure in history. Now he’s going to appoint a man who embodies the mainstream/neoconservative Republican establishment to the most important position in his cabinet? What a sellout!
I understand these sentiments, but I do not agree with them. Trump at this point needs to make a clear and cogent case to America’s allies that we stand with them. Yes, Trump has argued that NATO and East Asian nations should shoulder more of the burden for their own defense. That is reasonable enough. He has also suggested that we need to de-escalate tensions with Russia, and view Russia as an ally instead of an intransigent enemy.
Mitt Romney would be a well-suited individual to help Donald Trump deliver the message that America is a republic, not an empire. Undoubtedly, the neoconservatives and the military industrial complex will be clamoring for more foreign military adventurism and nation building.
But if Romney does indeed accept the Secretary of State position, it is implicit in his acceptance, that he must largely reject that line of foreign policy thinking. Romney, as the ultimate pragmatist, understands that if he is to be the next Secretary of State, his allegiance is to President Trump, and not to the neoconservative movement. He will have a degree of autonomy, and the confidence that he will always have the president’s ear. But he will be an implementer, not a creator, of foreign policy. And he understands that.
As a libertarian I hope that that Trump and Romney will heed the much-celebrated but often-forgotten admonishments of George Washington in his farewell address. In a nutshell, Washington advised us to avoid foreign entanglements and military adventures as much as possible. He encouraged us to pursue commercial relations with all, to show good faith and goodwill to all, but to avoid stirring up geopolitical trouble when it was not necessary or prudent.
Hopefully President Trump will take these words to heart.