HH: Joined now by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Governor, always a pleasure, welcome back.
MR: Thank you. Good to be with you today.
HH: What is your reaction to President Obama’s announcement of air strikes on Libya?
MR: Well, first, I support military action in Libya. I support our troops there and the mission that they’ve been given. But let me also note that thus far, the President has been unable to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy. I think it’s fair to ask, you know, what is it that explains the absence of any discernable foreign policy from the president of the United States? And I believe that it flows from his fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism. In the President’s world, all nations have common interests, the lines between good an evil are blurred, America’s history merits apology. And without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he’s tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced. And as a result, I think, he says, for instance, he’s committed to our success in Afghanistan unless it means commitment beyond 2011. He stands with our ally, Israel, but condemns its settlement policy even more forcefully than he condemns Hamas’ rockets. And he calls for the removal of Muammar Gaddafi, but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and the United Nations.
HH: Did he wait too long, Governor Romney, to strike against Libya?
MR: There’s no question but that his inability to have a clear and convincing foreign policy made him delegate to the United Nations and the Arab League a decision about our involvement there. And I happen to have a very personal concern. I mean, 270 people were killed as a result of that tragedy over Lockerbie. We now know that that was ordered directly by Muammar Gaddafi. One of my colleagues at Bain & Co, and a friend, named Nicholas Bright, was killed in that flight. And the President had every piece of information he needed to be able to take action in America’s interest.
HH: Does he appear weak?
MR: You know, I think one of the comments I’ve heard from individuals abroad is that in the past, America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak. We’re following the French into Libya. I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world. You know, the cause of liberty can endure the mistakes that are inevitable consequences of human fallibility. But liberty’s standard can’t prevail if it’s not proudly, decisively and consistently held aloft.
HH: Now the President announced, Mitt Romney, when he made the proclamation of the imminent action, that no American ground troops would be used whatsoever, not now, not ever, never. The Daily Mail is reporting today that the British SAS may be involved already on the ground. Is it wise for the president of the United States to ever rule out anything like that?
MR: Well, I think that’s something he’s doing for political purposes back home. I can’t confirm that. I can only speculate, but that he wants to make sure that his base here understands the limited role he plans on playing. And the mission he describes, which is to prevent a humanitarian crisis, may be able to be carried out without the application of ground forces. And we can certainly hope that there will be no casualties whatsoever for our men and women in uniform.
HH: Yesterday, Secretary Gates said from a military aircraft, I want to read this to you, Governor Romney, and see if you can translate it for me. Any president who is contemplating the use of military force should demand a spirited debate and intense debate among his advisors on all the ramifications. Gates continued, whatever positions people took in that debate, in that discussion, there was unanimous support for the approach the President decided on. Why would Secretary Gates feel obliged to make that statement?
MR: Well, again, I’m speculating, but my guess is that very early on, as you know, when Secretary Gates was asked about applying a no-fly zone, specifically, he pointed out the peril of doing such a thing, that it would require our attacking the aircraft defense system and so forth. And indeed, that’s exactly what happened. And I think he’s feeling the heat. He looked like he was not part of this decision. And frankly, I think a lot of people have pointed out that this is a decision which had it been made much earlier, when the insurgents and voices took to the streets in Libya, that it would have been a more successful endeavor than coming after the Gaddafi forces have pushed the insurgents basically to the wall.
HH: Governor Romney, General Jones is gone, a lot of the first team of the Obama White House is gone. We’re down to the second string. We’ve got Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton. Are you afraid it’s thin on the ground there, and that the President’s just a little overwhelmed at this point?
MR: Well, there’s a lot going on in the world. But you know, you can respond and act if you have a policy in mind, if you have a compass that guides your actions, if you are presented with the various possibilities of what might occur in regions of the world. You don’t have to consider them for the first time when they’re brought to your attention, but instead you can plan in advance. And if you have a foreign policy, as prior presidents have, then you know exactly how you’re going to respond. And in this case, we’re watching a president and his team that seem unprepared and without direction. Whether you agreed with President Bush or not, in his foreign policy, he at least had a foreign policy. And that is something which is sort of lacking, and I think it flows from a, if you will, a questioning as to whether America is an exceptional nation, and a sense that somehow we all have common interests in the world. And by the way, I strongly disagree with that view. I believe citizens have common interests, but my goodness, a lot of these governments and the people who lead them have the interest of oppressing people, and causing them to fall under their thumbs.
HH: Now Governor, I want to switch to nuclear power just quickly. When you were governor, I think you had two plants in Massachusetts – Pilgrim and Yankee Row. What is your reaction to the nuclear crises in Japan and the impact on the American nuclear power industry?
MR: Well, there’s no question but that there will be a revisiting of nuclear power in the light of what happened in Japan. Of course, what happened in Japan was probably not duplicable in the United States, at least under any reasonable circumstances, the combination of a very substantial earthquake plus a tsunami. I’m not a scientist, Hugh, but as I look at the San Andreas fault, it’s on the land, and therefore unlikely to cause a tsunami. But I think you have to revisit and say okay, in what way should be change the design of nuclear plants as a result of what we’ve learned in Japan. But once those reviews are carried out, obviously we need to continue with nuclear power, and also with natural gas power. We have just through technology discovered vast new gas reserves in this country, and those ought to be powering not only electric generation, but some of our long range fleets.
HH: Absolutely, mostly under Ohio, I might add. Last question, Governor Romney, we’ve got about 45 seconds. Former Governor Pawlenty announced his exploratory committee today. Do you have any idea when you’ll be deciding whether or not to do the same thing?
MR: I have an idea, Hugh, but I’d tell you quietly, but I’m afraid you’d let your listeners know, so I’ll have to be giving that some thought, but no definitive plans right now.
HH: Are you going to the Reagan Library debate that Politico wants to hold in May?
MR: Well, that depends on when we get things organized, and that’s not something I’m ready to come out with right now. But I can tell you that I’m doing what I’ve got to do to make sure that if we decide to go ahead, that we’ll have a successful effort.
HH: Mitt Romney, always a pleasure, Governor, thank you for joining us.
End of interview.