Fact checking the things that Mitt Romney says is like shooting at an elephant with a shotgun from a distance of five feet. The target is too big to miss, but hitting it also won't slow it down.
The effort to make him appear presidential just keeps lumbering on, like that elephant, unconstrained by the truth. One of his pollsters even said: "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
His foreign policy speech on Monday to a group of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute was the latest example of inventing the facts to fit the message. The speech had the usual share of half-truths, plus a generous helping of foreign policy fantasies.
He said for instance "The president has not signed one new free trade agreement in the last four years." That's true if you ignore the ones signed with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. They were negotiated under the Bush administration, but the Obama administration had to work with Congress to end a battle over aid to workers to get them signed. Aid to workers would of course not slow down the old profit maximizer who would happily close a factory, and send the jobs to China, if it meant another dollar in the bank.
He said the size of the Navy was at levels not seen since 1916. Not seen as long as no one looks at the last four years of the Bush administration when there were ten percent fewer ships than they are now.
Romney criticized Obama for the fact that we no longer have combat troops in Iraq as if their mere presence could prevent the chaos in that country. President Bush set the withdrawal timetable when he signed a status of forces agreement with Iraq that spelled it out. The Obama administration could not convince Iraqi leaders to commit political suicide by agreeing to allow an occupation army to stay longer. An extension could have been achieved, but it would have meant agreeing to the Iraqi insistence that the troops would be subject to Iraqi law and its judicial system.
Romney also said he will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Don't look now Mitt, but they already have it if capability is defined as having the raw material and the ability to enrich it to weapons grade uranium. Whether they can fabricate a bomb and how long it would take to produce the highly enriched uranium required is not clear, but the intelligence community believes they have not decided to construct one. Romney's red line is sufficiently fuzzy; however, that he can make the call that it has been crossed whenever he wants to start a war.
Or perhaps whenever Prime Minister Netanyahu decides it is time for America to attack Iran. Romney stressed that "the world must never see any daylight" between Israel and the United States. He has said in the past that he would check with Netanyahu before making any statements about the Middle East and leave it up to him to decide when the American embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That is a move so contrary to American interests that no president has seriously contemplated taking such a foolish step. But if there is really to be no daylight, Romney will have to let Netanyahu dictate American policy for the region and not just the decision on the embassy's location.
In general, Romney used the speech to blame all the ills of the world on Obama saying that, if elected, his leadership will result in peace and prosperity for all. If he does become president, he will discover even the most powerful man in the world cannot simply pound his chest, rattle his saber and everyone will follow because he thinks himself exceptional.
But his fact-free pitch to become that man is aimed at the voters who share his disdain for reality. They believe that if unemployment drops, the statistics must have been rigged, and that polls that show him behind obviously over-sample Democrats. They also think any foreign policy goal can be achieved by simply telling the world that he is as great a leader as he thinks he is. Good luck with that.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State's School of International Affairs.
McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.