Mitt Romney recently said something on Fox News Sunday that raises questions about his understanding of history and its pertinence for foreign policy. In the course of talking about the war in Iraq and the “lessons learned” from that conflict and its “errors,” Romney responded to a question about an incident from his father’s brief 1967-68 run for the Republican nomination. In August 1967, George Romney told a Detroit radio-television reporter, “Well, you know when I came back from Vietnam [in November 1965], I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam. Not only by the Generals, but also by the diplomatic corps over there . . . . And, as a result, I have changed my mind . . . in that particular. I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression.”
Little remembered today, Romney’s remark, particularly the careless use of the term “brainwashing,” ended his run for the nomination. The other governors and the journalists who had been on the 1965 trip disavowed Romney’s insulting characterization of the military and diplomatic personnel who had accompanied the governors. Romney was accused of flip-flopping on his earlier comments that the war was “morally right and necessary” and that withdrawal was “unthinkable.” One journalist, noting the amount of time between the trip and Romney’s about-face, wondered why it took so long for Romney to get his brain back from the laundry. The media pounced on Romney’s clumsy use of the “brainwashing” metaphor: the New York Times headline read, “Romney Asserts He Underwent ‘Brainwashing’ On Vietnam Trip.” In February 1968, faced with polls showing voters in New Hampshire preferring Richard Nixon by a six-to-one margin, Romney dropped out of the race.
When Chris Wallace raised the issue in his Fox News Sunday interview, Romney responded, “Years later when my dad was proven to be right in terms of the errors in Vietnam, my wife asked him, ‘You know, dad, how do you feel about the fact that you’re finally being vindicated in what you said?’ And he said, ‘You know, I never look back. I only look forward.’ He’s quite a guy.”
Unfortunately, Chris Wallace didn’t ask an important follow-up questions. When Romney said his father “was proven to be right in terms of errors in Vietnam,” what exactly did he mean? Was one of the “errors,” as George Romney had explicitly said, getting involved in Vietnam in the first place “to stop Communist aggression”? And what events exactly does Mitt Romney believe “proved” his father was right? These are critical questions for understanding Romney’s grasp of history and its lessons.
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