He’s hinting, without explicitly saying, that the U.S. should be a prime mover in making this happen, which would raise many questions if we take this response as being on the level. Is it? Or is it just something he’s obliged to say because of the dynamics of the campaign? He needs to criticize O’s foreign policy somehow and the natural place to do it if you’re a Republican of the non-Ron-Paul variety, as Romney is, is from the right. Obviously he’s not imagining boots on the ground here; he’s floating a gassy statement of hawkishness suggesting that The One’s not doing enough to solve an increasingly atrocious problem. It’s the safe, moral answer, even in a war-weary America, so long as he’s not forced to give specifics. Yet.
KUDLOW: And last one, Governor, appreciate your time very much. You’re going to Europe and you’re going to Israel. Let me ask you your view of President Obama. Has he been tough enough in ousting Assad? After all, that would be a signal to Iran and to Hezbollah. Prime Minister Netanyahu talked about that yesterday. Is the United States being tough enough on Assad?
Gov. ROMNEY: Well, I think from the very beginning we misread the setting in Syria. The secretary of state said that Assad was a reformer. That’s a phrase which will obviously go down in history as being poorly timed and entirely inaccurate. This is a person who is killing his own people and was at the time. America should’ve come out very aggressively from the very beginning and said Assad must go. At this stage, America is taking action, covert and overt, to try and encourage a change of leadership there. But the Middle East itself, with all of the violence which has occurred and which is occurring now in Syria, is a place of tumult and disarray and the world looks for American leadership and American strength. And it is time for us to have confidence that our cause is just, to have the kind of clarity of vision in our purpose and to have the kind of resolve behind our application of soft and hard power. And if those things are put in place, I think the world is a safer place and our freedom will be more secure.
KUDLOW: But is there any doubt in your mind that Assad has to go?
Gov. ROMNEY: Oh, there’s no question but that Assad has to go. I think even the Russians from news reports I’m reading have recognized that he must go. We don’t want to see a continuation of the same kind of brutality, which has characterized the last several months. But what follows Assad, we just don’t know. But a person of this nature that’s overseen the killing of his own people is obviously someone who’s unfit to lead.
Two things. One: Obama’s been saying that Assad must go for nearly a year now. He didn’t say it “from the very beginning” of the Syrian uprising, granted, but what would he have gained by doing that if he wasn’t prepared to act relatively quickly to make it happen if Assad resisted? He might have thought early on that the rebellion would peter out quickly or that Assad would crush it efficiently, and then he’d be stuck looking like a chump and with all hopes of eventual rapprochement with the regime down the toilet. In fact, one of the knocks on Obama during the early stages of the Libyan uprising was that he kept saying that Qaddafi must go without demonstrating any real desire to help make it happen. If the president of the United States is going to call for some foreign leader to be deposed, I’d prefer that it not be an idle threat.
Two: How would it show “clarity of vision in our purpose” to help topple Assad when “we just don’t know” what would follow him? Mitt’s thinking here, I take it, is that anything that deprives Iran of a key client is all to the good. Is that true, though? Trading an Alawite regime for one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t guarantee that Iran will be evicted from Syria. They get along fine with the fundie Sunnis in Hamas in the interest of harassing Israel, after all. Beyond that, how sure are we that helping the Brotherhood expand its dominion to another strategically crucial Sunni country won’t more than offset the security gains that flow from weakening Iran by toppling their pal Assad? Iran’s a more immediate threat, but I tend to lapse into indifference when it comes to hard choices between Sunni fanatics and Shiite fanatics. Also, what if we help topple Assad and he’s replaced by … nothing? Imagine the entire country as no man’s land, split at the seams among different tribes. Would that situation be good for America’s or Israel’s security, given what we know about, say, Afghanistan circa 1998? Do you think Al Qaeda would be happy about it?
As I say, Mitt’s statement here is really a moral one, not a policy one. Assad’s a monstrous degenerate; no mainstream U.S. pol will shrug and say we have no business trying to stop the killing given the gruesome reports that voters see every night. He said what he had to say. I just wonder if he’s prepared to elaborate when asked to do so, especially since it sounds like O’s already gearing up to aid the Syrian rebels more aggressively. Speaking of which, here he is at the VFW today. Skip ahead to 12:10 to hear him warn Assad about not making the “tragic mistake” of using chemical weapons — which the regime is now openly threatening to do if any outside powers interfere.