Romney has best policies on conflict

Freedom New Mexico

The Republican debates Saturday night and Sunday morning were intended to give last-minute guidance to voters in New Hampshire, which holds its presidential primary today. But they were useful also to voters in military-rich eastern New Mexico. The candidates offered glimpses into how they view the armed forces, overseas conflicts and when and how the United States should go to war.

Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum favored a more or less endless war against global terrorism. As in previous debates, they sounded ready to start bombing Iran — right now, no waiting — to try to halt its budding nuclear capability. Texas Gov. Perry bested them all Saturday night, and caused some jaws to drop, when he said he would send U.S. troops back into Iraq.

Geez. Just when we thought our Iraq veterans were home to stay.

At the opposite end of this issue was Ron Paul, who has been called an isolationist. The term isn’t accurate. Rep. Paul is wary of overseas wars for the same reason the Founders warned against foreign entanglements. He also believes federal budget cuts must include military cuts — such as the closing of far-flung U.S. bases that are legacies of World War II and the Cold War, already decades distant. This is not isolationism.

Rep. Paul reminded the other candidates Saturday night that wars must be preceded by congressional declarations of war. That isn’t isolationism, either.

Between these extremes were Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.

Huntsman, who has two sons in the Navy, said advice from military brass is important but final decisions about warmaking are up to the commander in chief. Besides, he said, sometimes commanders “on the ground” offer bad advice. He cited Vietnam, 1967.

Romney staked out a position that sounded a lot like the Bush-era Powell Doctrine. When national security is threatened and armed conflict is necessary, he said, the situation must be explained to the public, objectives must be clearly defined and an exit strategy must be mapped out.

In the months after 9/11, some of our readers ridiculed the Powell Doctrine as timid and too constraining. We always thought it made good sense. We’re pleased that the GOP front-runner apparently thinks so, too.