There were several interesting details in this Boston Globe story about Mitt Romney's rationale for jumping back into the presidential foray -- advisers urging the former governor of Massachusetts to "be more comfortable in public," for one -- but what elicited the most chatter was the insistence of one adviser that many of the biggest foreign policy challenges under President Barack Obama's second term would simply not exist under a Romney presidency.
“There wouldn’t be an ISIS at all, and Putin would know his place in life. Domestically, things would be in better shape," a longtime adviser told the Globe.
If that play sounds familiar, it's because Romney's aides attempted it before. Just a few days following the 2012 terror attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a top foreign policy aide to Romney claimed that the circumstances that led to the death of Amb. Christopher Stevens also would not have occurred under the governor's steady hand.
"There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation," the aide, Richard Williamson, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”
But the argument regarding the Islamic State is even more puzzling. The origins of the group date as far back as 2006, where it was known as al Qaeda in Iraq. It resurfaced in 2011, and consolidated its power during the civil war in Syria after a merger with the al-Nusra Front. To say that there "wouldn’t be an ISIS at all," Romney would have had to have done some serious time traveling.
Perhaps the adviser was making the point that Romney would have committed more troops to Iraq with his election in 2012. Republicans have often criticized Obama for withdrawing U.S. forces too hastily; indeed, Romney repeatedly did so during the campaign. Though there is some debate about whether Obama fought hard enough for a new status of forces agreement in Iraq, the administration claimed that it was simply acting on a withdrawal timetable set by President George W. Bush.
The best answer comes from the candidate's mouth. Here's what Romney said on Fox News in November:
Well, first of all, what we should have done by now is have-- is have American troops staying by in-- in Iraq, that was something that we argued for years ago. The President didn't do it. Likewise, we should have armed the moderates in Syria a long time ago so that they'd be able to keep something like ISIS from being formed. And as a result of the mistakes that have been made in the past on the President's part, we now have terrible visions being shown on TV and-- and, of course, the threat to ourselves here in the homeland.
Arming Syrian rebels may have been enough to stop ISIS, it may have not. One thing Romney did not support, however, was committing U.S. ground troops to Iraq or Syria. But hindsight, as the saying goes, is 20/20. Claiming you would have done something differently years later is one of the most common political attacks, and the governor certainly isn't the first potential 2016 candidate to do so.