NEWBERRY, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says that if terrorists detonated a nuclear bomb in a U.S. city while he was president he would retaliate “in a very dramatic and clear way,” reports the AP by way of CNN’s political ticker in a trivial story oddly titled Romney: ‘Dramatic’ retaliation to nuclear attack.

Posed that scenario while campaigning Friday in this early primary state, Romney said he didn’t want to say much more.

“The answer is you would retaliate and you’d retaliate in a very dramatic and clear way. I don’t want to be terribly more specific than that,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

First response: Well, duh. If attacked, we will respond hardly constitutes a policy departure; it hardly constitutes a policy at all.

So why is this news?

Perhaps this is why:

“But there’s no question that people understand that the reason that we have the thousands upon thousands of nuclear warheads we have is that we intend to protect ourselves. And I would never shrink from protecting the American nation, the American people, nor shrink from retaliation if somebody used something as awful as a nuclear device. We will be safe.”

The US can project its various kinds of forces anywhere in the world. Romney, however, claims that “there is no question that people understand”—why the two removes?—why does Romney embed a relative clause in an already cleft sentence?—“that we have the thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons we have is that we intend to protect ourselves.” Call this this the Romney Doctrine. The Romney Doctrine seems on its face like a trivial claim. But it is actually either

(a) another painfully stupid misstatement of a simple principle of policy

OR

(b) a radical inversion of the theory of deterrence

Regard: Classically, at least since John Foster Dulles, it is generally argued that the US maintains large stockpiles of nuclear weapons not to dissuade state or non-state actors from mounting limited nuclear strikes or terrorist acts etc., but to deter a major nuclear strike by a major nuclear actor.

In other words, the weapons exist to deter, not to avenge.

On the other hand: Limited strikes, strikes by a single nuclear weapon, terrorist attacks—these almost by definition would be the acts of weaker-state or non-state actors. Conditions on the ground would dictate the degree or the proportion of response. For example, what about the case of a weak state that had no effective control over territories controlled by tribes or militias? What about the case of a non-state actor, a group, a network, or a single terror cell? Or what about so-called dirty bombs or the sabotage of nuclear facilities?—would these also necessarily warrant a nuclear response? The simple reality is this: no, Romney, we do not maintain “thousands upon thousands” of nuclear weapons as a means to retaliate against rogues and terrorists. Nor have we ever. This, Romney, would be insanity.

Deterrence speaks to policy, precedence, and procedure; the core assumptions of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)—as irrational as they seemingly were—were at least premised upon a peer relationship and some degree of cooperation among the competitors. The antithesis of policy, precedence, and procedure, is revenge (or to use Romney’s term, retaliation), what Romney specifies as the answer to rogue acts of nuclear aggression, and what Romney claims is the very reason for our “thousands upon thousands” of nuclear weapons. Revenge–or retaliation–suggests a reactive system of blind reciprocity that admits of no conceptual limit, only an empirical one: the physical destruction of those caught in the cycle of revenge. For Romney, this is what “there is no question that people understand.”

Romney—always a little befuddled, but in this case dangerously confused—conflates deterrence with its antithesis, revenge.

The CNN story continues: The key is preventing nuclear proliferation, Romney said. He cited Iran, which has been accused of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge its leaders have denied while claiming it’s interested only in a nuclear energy program.

Against rogue acts of nuclear aggression, Romney promises retaliation, the antithesis of process or a sense of justice based on procedure. Yet Romney now flatly contradicts himself by invoking the non-proliferation process, a process that depends for its substance on the instruments of diplomacy, international legal precedent within the context of a treaty system, the presumptions of sovereignty, and the possibility of compromise, precisely because Iran is a weaker state with everything to gain from the development and use of nuclear weapons.

“It’s time for us to dramatically tighten the sanctions on Iran and to get our friends around the world to do the same,” Romney said. People in Iran need to know that “going down the nuclear path is a source of peril, not a source of pride,” he said … more

And now Romney contradicts himself yet again.

Remember, the Romney Doctrine hinges upon this forumula: “But there’s no question that people understand that the reason that we have the thousands upon thousands of nuclear warheads we have is that we intend to protect ourselves.” So why does this reasoning not also apply to the Iranian people and the pride that they should justly feel in their own defense, and in continuing to develop their own defenses? The answer is that it does apply, because American exceptionalism is not a persuasive argument unless you happen to be an American. And this is precisely why Iran thus far resists the arguments of the US and the international community.

Conclusion: Romney is dangerously confused.

Oh, but by all means, please make this man our president.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

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  1. 1 Romney retreats from the Romney Doctrine; now recapitulates the Bush doctrine « who is willard milton romney?

    […] This is a full on retreat from the far more radical Romney Doctrine, summed up in the line: “But there’s no question that people understand that the reason that we have the thousands upon thousands of nuclear warheads we have is that we intend to protect ourselves.” On analysis, this line—and Romney’s reasoning—dangerously conflate the notions of deterrence and revenge. Please see: Romney dangerously confused on issues of deterrence and defense […]

  2. 2 debate performance: Romney flip-flops on Iran—again! « who is willard milton romney?

    […] We examine the Romney Doctrine in grim detail in a post titled Romney dangerously confused on issues of deterrence and defense […]

  3. 3 Boyd on Romney: “I have no idea how we are supposed to figure out what [Romney truly believes] based on the available information about [Romney]”—how Romney’s ideological cross-dressing, and his flat refusal to address it, baffles

    […] Romney dangerously confused on issues of deterrence and defense […]

  4. 4 Boyd on Romney: “I have no idea how we are supposed to figure out what [Romney truly believes] based on the available information about [Romney]”—how Romney’s ideological cross-dressing, and his flat refusal to address it, baffles

    […] Romney dangerously confused on issues of deterrence and defense […]




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