Did Mitt Romney Forget About NATO, the EU, and Compromise?

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Famous psychologist Abraham Maslow once wrote, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Maslow’s words, taken from Toward a Psychology of Being, are particularly applicable to Mitt Romney’s latest piece in The Washington Post, “The need for a mighty U.S. military.”

Romney’s thesis is quite succinctly summarized in the title, but his argument is based on a series of false premises, and in the end it’s clear he’s in possession of nothing but a hammer.

Is a multipolar world impossible?

“There are those who claim that a multipolar world is preferable to one led by a strong United States. Were these other poles nations such as Australia, Canada, France, and Britain, I might concur,” writes Romney. “But with emerging poles being China, Russia, and Iran, the world would not see peace it would see bullying, invasion, and regional wars. And ultimately, one would seek to conquer the others, unleashing world war.” His argument crumbles quickly when you consider President Barack Obama’s actions this week and his efforts alongside other nations.

While Obama is far from perfect, we can say this for him: He doesn’t only have a hammer. As we’re constantly being reminded by critics, he also has a pen, and a phone, one he’s (metaphorically) used in efforts with NATO and the EU in handling the conflict in Ukraine, as well as his coalition efforts in handling ISIL’s aggression in Iraq. Romney speaks of Britain falling to the side as China, Russia, and Iran rise — but doesn’t really address the fact that if Russia is an aggressor, you don’t want your only option to be to go it alone. There’s a lot to be said for sharing the burden of geopolitical decisions. Dependence solely on our economic contribution, on our military men and women, is hardly ideal if alignment is possible. And it’s clear alignment very much is. For example, Britain is contributing 1,000 personnel and a headquarters to NATO’s 4,000 person reaction force, and 3,500 British troops will be positioned alongside NATO in exercises in Eastern Europe until next year.

No room for commonality?

Romney writes about good, evil, and “‘common humanity’” with intense skepticism. “Before we jettison our reliance on U.S. strength, there must be something effective in its place — if such a thing is even possible,” he writes. If anyone is wondering what American exceptionalism looks like, he’s demonstrated it for you in a single sentence. “The appeal to ‘common humanity’ as the foundation of this new world order ignore the reality that humanity is far from common in values and views. Humanity may commonly agree that there is evil, but what one people calls evil another calls good,” Romney writes.

In an apparently impossible feat, the U.S. and all nations within NATO and the EU have agreed upon a number of common evils this week — and across history nations have found common ground and pooled efforts. Countries may not always agree on every moral or logistical issue, but that’s why it’s called compromise, and that’s why cooperation is done on a case by case basis. No one is proposing we marry our morals to other nations. The smart nation goes on geopolitical dates as the mood suits.

The flaw of switches over dials

Romney’s argument is one built on switch logic instead of dials. Either on or off, no in between. Either the U.S. pulls back from the world and allows “power-hungry tyrants” to “feast on the appeasers” or pour funding into maintaining the strongest possible military, competing desperately with other growing militaries as though we had not an ally in the world. Either we concentrate on issues close to home, and keep taxes low, or we fund our defense. Some of his arguments are fair — we don’t know the exact military strength of China, Russia, and others. We do need to maintain a degree of involvement in global affairs, and the world is not less dangerous than it was thirty years ago. But his either or logic is flawed and limiting.

Now to return to Mr. Maslow for a moment. The psychologist offers one more relevant concept when looking at Romney’s argument. During his career Maslow’s most well known accomplishment was his “hierarchy of needs.” This was his theory that human beings had different needs, each valued somewhat more or less than others, and that as each priority was filled, others would become available for consideration. For example, at the very base of his pyramid hierarchy were physical needs such as food, water, and shelter. Then came security and security. Only after these two basic things were fulfilled could morality, friendship, and self-actualization be achieved. Romney is stuck at the base of the pyramid — but our nation need not be, and indeed should not be if we’re to find international security outside of ourselves.

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