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January 22, 2012 2:28 pm

Romney: The Conservative Who Can Beat Obama

avatar by John Bolton


Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaign rallies. Photo: Brian Rawson-Ketchum.

With America’s future at stake in November, I decided to support Mitt Romney for three reasons: his Reaganaut philosophy, executive experience and general-election campaign strengths.

Our country’s political focus on economic recovery has allowed President Obama to escape responsibility for his failures in the area of national security. Mr. Obama clearly doesn’t recognize that lasting prosperity is impossible without robust foreign and defense policies and capabilities—and, conversely, that the requisite political, military and intelligence resources are not sustainable without a strong economy. Today’s textbook example: the president’s rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.

Mr. Romney fully understands the inextricable prosperity-security linkage, and that America’s global adversaries aren’t waiting around graciously for our economic recovery. Instead, they see Mr. Obama’s weaknesses and are vigorously exploiting them.

Mr. Obama has been gutting our armed forces through defense budget cuts that will total nearly $1.5 trillion if the debt-ceiling legislation’s sequestration mechanism takes effect. These reductions are compelling evidence that the president is entirely comfortable with America’s international retreat and decline.

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The Navy has only 285 ships today, the fewest since World War I, and it is straining to uphold its unique global responsibilities. Our Air Force has only 39 fighter squadrons, fewer than half the number it had two decades ago. And yet the military’s missions remain, and the threats grow.

In East Asia, for example, China is modernizing and expanding its air and naval capabilities, developing area-denial and anti-access weapons, and making increasingly assertive territorial claims, potentially restricting access to international waters. And Russia is using its international oil revenues to rebuild both its conventional and nuclear capabilities.

We cannot respond effectively at present force levels, and this weakness will only worsen as Mr. Obama’s defense cuts take hold, disheartening allies and tempting adversaries. Abandoning the “peace through strength” doctrine will inevitably increase risks to America, not reduce them. Mr. Romney has promised to reverse Mr. Obama’s reductions—for example, increasing the Navy’s shipbuilding rate to 15 warships a year from nine and replacing the aging weapons systems that all our services field.

Mr. Romney has emphatically rejected the Obama administration’s wrongheaded Russian “reset” policy, and he was the first presidential candidate to oppose the flawed New Start arms-control treaty. He understands that international terrorism remains a major threat: He has warned against Mr. Obama’s withdrawal from Afghanistan along a publicly announced timetable and against his dangerously mistaken policy of negotiating with the Taliban terrorists. Those negotiations imperil everything we have won at considerable human cost since we responded to the 9/11 attacks by declaring war on terror, a war Mr. Obama daily tries to wish out of existence.

Mr. Romney also fully understands the proliferation threat of ballistic missiles and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He has taken strong stands on Iran and North Korea, today’s two gravest risks, both badly mishandled by Mr. Obama.

And because of global proliferation, Mr. Romney’s signature issue has been to build multilayered, national ballistic-missile defenses to protect us—a truly Reaganesque objective. This would constitute another major reversal of Mr. Obama’s dangerous worldview, which rests on outdated strategic doctrines and inattention to the grave perils that weapons of mass destructions pose as instruments of terrorism.

Then there’s Mr. Romney’s executive experience in government and the private sector. The president is CEO of the federal government’s executive branch, no small task. And many Republican presidents have seen their agendas broken or impaired by their failures to make the executive departments implement the policy objectives for which they campaigned.

The skills required are neither those needed for keeping a clean inbox nor for mere academic observation of business or government. And most assuredly they are not speechifying or engaging in candidate cattle shows. Executive competence is not legislative legerdemain, just as parliamentary acumen is not judicial temperament, and running small judicial chambers or congressional offices is not a qualification to run the Defense Department.

Inert, uncooperative and sometimes openly hostile bureaucracies, plus political appointees who are philosophically sound but all thumbs managerially, only begin the list of hurdles for a president to overcome. One who sees himself responsible only for the White House staff (or not even that) rather than the entire executive branch will soon find himself increasingly irrelevant.

Avoiding such failure requires sustained attention, steadiness, persistence, discipline and especially resolve. These are undramatic attributes, but they are powerfully consequential when well-used and central to a successful presidency. George H.W. Bush had them, especially in national-security matters. Mr. Obama obviously does not.

Mr. Obama’s manifold failings underscore the final issue: electability. Competitors and politicos are already endlessly analyzing this question, so I’ll make only three brief points.

First, there is an infinitesimally small chance that Mr. Romney will self-destruct in September or October. “No-drama Obama,” meet your match. Second, Mr. Romney has the overwhelming lead in endorsements from Republican senators and representatives—the most aware, self-interested community, bar none, regarding our nominee’s electability. No propensity there to grandiosity or suicide. Third, Mr. Romney shares one of Reagan’s most important and attractive characteristics: being critical without being angry or scornful.

The late Bill Buckley bequeathed us the right test: Pick the most conservative candidate capable of winning. That is clearly Mitt Romney.

Mr. Bolton served in the Justice Department and the Agency for International Development under President Reagan and in the State Department under both Presidents Bush.

This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

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