HH: We begin with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and it’s really serendipitous, Governor, welcome back, that we get a chance to talk to you on the day that the nation is commemorating another son of Michigan, as you are, Gerald Ford. And I was thinking your dad, when he was governor and secretary of housing and urban development, must have worked with President Ford as a Congressman very closely.
MR: Well, there’s no question about that. He was, of course, a Congressman from my home state. My parents knew the Fords very well, and though very highly of both of them. And of course, like the rest of the nation, pinned their hopes on Gerald Ford as he became a president in a very, very difficult time. And you know, he distinguished himself in a number of ways that looking back, I think people recognized just how unusual it was. He vetoed many, many, many bills that he thought were wrong for America, and spending too much money. I mean, he knew what he stood for, and he got up and stood for it. And I know his pardon of President Nixon was very, very emotionally charged at the time. People were very concerned and focused on it. I think the light of history has suggested that it was a good thing not to have the nation go through a long and protracted focus on the past, but instead allowed us to look forward. So you know, we’re going to miss Gerry Ford, but remember his legacy. And of course, his wife’s legacy lives on, and she’s a living woman, but also as a first couple. They made a real difference for America.
HH: They did, and the tributes are heartfelt across the political spectrum, though he took some hard hammer blows during that time. Governor, as a president passes on, you’re considering whether or not to try and become one. What’s your progress towards a decision there?
MR: Well, over the last year or two, I’ve done what’s necessary to keep the option open. That’s not something you just wait until the last minute to do. But I’ve made a number of friends in the early primary states, the sweepstakes states, if you will. I’ve got a good fundraising team together. And so my family and I are spending some time during this Christmas to New Year’s break to talk about the things that we might be able to do if I were to get into this race. And frankly, that’s the real consideration. Could I really make a difference to help America at this time? It’s not a matter of what kind of a sacrifice it would be for me and my family, because frankly, anybody who puts on a uniform is making a much bigger sacrifice than any politician I know. So we’re focusing on what I could do, and we’re giving it a lot of thought, and my guess is that, well, sometime around after the New Year, well, we’ll be making a next step.
HH: I will look forward to talking to you after that decision, Governor. You were abroad when the Iraq Study Group issued its report. What was your reaction to it?
MR: I was not pleased with the Study Group. It struck me that they tried to touch every possible base without narrowly defining a role for success. First of all, by beginning to suggest that we would withdraw without a victory, and without success, I think, was a mistake. Secondly, pinning the problem, to any degree, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think, was misguided. Shia are killing Sunni, Sunni are killing Shia, and that’s not because of Israelis and Palestinians. I also thought that the suggestion that’s implied by negotiating with the Syrians and the Iranians was misdirected, in part because we know what they want. And what they want we’re not prepared to give. We’re not going to give the Syrians access to Lebanon, or the Golan Heights from our friends, the Israelis. And we’re certainly not going to go soft on the Iranians, as they develop nuclear technology. So negotiating with them is really not in the cards. No harm, I guess, in talking to learn from people, but there’s no real reason to have a real negotiation, and in a formal setting, they’re not going to be our friends there.
HH: Talking with Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Governor, it used to be that when people were considering presidential runs, they’d visit the three I’s: Israel, Ireland and Italy, because of constituency politics in the United States. Your trip went to Japan, Korea and China, the one that you’ve just completed. Why those three? What did you find there of importance in making your decision on whether or not to run?
MR: Well, you know, we’re so focused right now on the Middle East, as we should be, given the conflict there, that in many times, we don’t give enough attention to other places in the world that may represent real long term opportunities and threats to us. And Asia is certainly one of those. It’s growing very, very fast as a region. Anyone who makes any product in this country recognizes that that product may be replaced by a product that comes from Asia, particularly from China or India. And so I wanted to go there and get a perspective on how the nation had changed since those nations had changed since I’d last been there, but also speak with government officials, and see are they enemies, or will…in particular, will the Chinese be enemies in the style of the old Soviet Union leaders, or can they be, if you will, partners for stability in the world. And I came away more hopeful that as their economy seems to be growing, and as they’re focused on their own domestic problems, that the Chinese can well become a partner of ours in trying to sue for international stability. And that may be a stretch, but that is certainly my hope. But I also recognize that we are facing a tough economic competitor, and unless we raise the bar here competitively, in our education system, in our technology investments, and the like. We’re going to find ourselves becoming second tier, economically, and that would be a tragedy.
HH: A lot of people are worried that China has decided to make a bid for military, if not equivalence, then parity of an assymetrical sort with us, and that they are also very ambitious towards reunification with Taiwan, and would not rule out even armed conflict there. Who did you meet with? What kind of exchanges did you have with the Chinese?
MR: Well, I had a number of exchanges with everyone from the assistant foreign secretary, and I’ve met in the past with Wen Jiabao when he was in Boston. And so we met with quite a number of folks from their administration, as well as people from our own embassy and staffs. And it is fair to say that there is concern about the long term military ambitions of China, but I think at this stage, they’re primarily focused on their internal dissentions, and the transition they’re going through from what was a communist, impoverished nation to a robust, capitalistic society. And they’re very concerned about the nation coming apart in some kind of revolutionary actions going on across the nation. They don’t want that to happen. And so I don’t think for some time here they’re going to represent a military threat, but I do think that that’s of course something you have to keep in mind down the road. I think the key for us is to see if we can pull them into a sphere of influence that would sue for peace and prosperity and for stability, rather than pushing them away, and making them more of an enemy, because at this stage, it’s very interesting. Every conversation I had with leaders from China, they argued for a stronger America, that was more able to buy their products. We are, after all, their best market. They want us to succeed and thrive, so that we can continue to propel their economy, so they can get people out of poverty, and therefore, less of a threat to the stability of their country.
HH: Now Governor Romney, China’s been pretty helpful with North Korea. They’ve done some good things. But with Iran, they have not been helpful at all, and now Iran announced yesterday 3,000 more centrifuges towards uranium enrichment. They’re on a path towards nukes. And the question I hope gets asked of every presidential candidate is if George Bush comes before the people of the United States in the next two years and says absent military action, Iran is going to go critical and acquire nukes, and therefore, I’m going to take that action. If he made that statement, would you support him in that, Governor Romney?
MR: Well, you know, the challenge with threatening a military strike is that that becomes a headline in and of itself. I think America has to maintain the option of military action, any time its interests are threatened. And certainly, having a nuclear weapon in Iran would threaten not only our interests, but the interests of our friends, and would threaten the entire world. It’s a setting which would justify military action. The only time one could ever consider such an action is if every other reasonable option had been exercised to keep from having to use that option, and we’re a long way from there at this point. You point out, one of the key ways of influencing and putting pressure Iran, and that is through China. China really is the key, both to the nuclear armament of North Korea, as well as to Iran. They’re a huge trading partner with both. And China, of course, wants the oil very badly to keep their economy going, and therefore, they don’t want to iritate the Iranians. But we’re going to have to build our own type of pressure, to make sure that we get from them the kind of support that we need from someone who we want to become more of a friend in the world, and that is by them putting in place very tough restrictions, and supporting our tough acts against the Iranians, our sanctions against the Iranians, as they develop nuclear weaponry.
HH: Now I’m sure you agree with me George Bush is not going to act recklessly towards Iran. But do you think if he does have to act, whatever it is, diplomatically, or beyond diplomatically, that the country will rally to him?
MR: You know, the answer is the country can, and the country should. America is always willing to respond to the truth being told to them in a way that is clear and definitive. There’s no question, however, that we have lost credibility, meaning our nation’s leaders have lost credibility in the lack of clarity in the management of the war in Iraq. Following the collapse of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t have enough troops, we didn’t have sufficient planning in place, obviously, we were derelict in the oversight of the Abu Ghraib prison. There are features that have lessened the citizenry’s respect and confidence in our leadership, and that’s difficult. We’re going to have to overcome that, because that’s critical as we face the kind of threats America now encounters.
HH: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, thanks. Good to talk with you. Happy New Year, look forward to talking to you after your decision is made in 2007.
End of interview.