Marc Ambinder: Romney's Theory of Provocative Weakness

Roundup: Media's Take

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large, and writes The Compass blog

The sudden swing of American attention to North Africa has clarified the way Mitt Romney sees his country's place in the world. Setting aside the merits of his campaign's timing, because you can say just about anything if the timing is right, it is worth taking a brief tour through the Museum of Provocative Weakness. That phrase is a favorite of Ambassador John Bolton, who said on August 28 that Romney "doesn't believe strength is provocative, he believes that American weakness is provocative." It has been used many times by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. After the decision had been made to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld told ABC News that it didn't really matter if a war enrages Arab populations in the Middle East. "All I can say is if history has taught anything, it's that weakness is provocative. It entices people into doing things that they otherwise would not do." When Rumsfeld was fired by President Bush three years later, he used his final turn at the podium to say that "it is not only clear that weakness is provocative, but [that] the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative."
This phrase is the beating heart of Mitt Romney's world view. You can see it in his books. You can hear it whenever he condemns President Obama for his "apology tour." In practice, this means that whenever America has a choice about whether to demonstrate its will to power, it ought to exercise it. Anything else would telegraph weakness, a lack of resolve, that tips the balance of power in the world away from the good guys....

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