Mitt Romney: A Mormon Presidential Candidate?

By William Van Wagenen

As the 2008 Presidential election nears, there is now a Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney, with a seemingly viable, though outside shot at winning the American Presidency. That Romney could perhaps become president at first seems naturally desirable to many Mormons, given the long history of anti-Mormon persecution and bigotry. Though persecution of Mormons is no longer violent, its verbal off shoots are still pervasive in American society. The election of a Mormon president, it seems, would usher the Mormon Church into a new age of respectability and give it a true place in the American mainstream.

That a Mormon may become the most powerful person on earth, the leader of the world’s largest economy, and the world’s most dominant military, also opens the possibility that a Mormon president could utilize this great power to promote the values found in Mormon scripture, such as caring for the poor and needy, loving one another, both friends and enemies, and renouncing war. The need to renounce war seems particularly important, in light of comments by the current President of the Mormon Church, Gordon B. Hinckley: “War I hate with all its mocking panoply. . . It is a grim and living testimony that Satan, the father of lies, the enemy of God lives. War is Earth’s greatest cause of human misery. It is the destroyer of life, the promoter of hate, the waster of treasure. It is man’s costliest folly, his most tragic misadventure.”1

A look at Mitt Romney’s vision for America’s foreign policy reveals little, however, that resembles any of these most basic and central Mormon values. In contrast to Gordon Hinckley’s hatred of war, Romney’s central foreign policy concern, in fact, is a deepening of American militarism and war making. Specifically, Romney advocates drastically increasing American military expenditures, escalating the Iraq war, continuing operations against transnational Islamic militant groups, and preparing for a military assault on Iran.

In the June/August 2007 issue of the conservative journal Foreign Affairs 2 Romney writes that, “While we wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US troop levels and our investment in the military as a percentage of GDP remain lower than at any time of major conflict since World War II,” noting with nostalgia that “the United States made huge sacrifices, investing more than a third of its economic activity to fight the [Second World] war.”

Romney’s affinity for war prevents him from seeing the Vietnam War as a tragedy, as his father George Romney did, in which the United States mercilessly bombed a small rural country, killing 3 million Vietnamese. Instead the only lesson Romney draws from this shameful history is that the US should not have reduced its military capabilities after the war, while also deriding the Clinton Administration for cutting defense expenditures after the demise of the Soviet Union: “Twice in the last several decades, following the end of US military involvement in Vietnam and the end of the Cold War in the 1990’s, the United States became dangerously unprepared.”

Romney therefore insists that “First, we need to increase our investment in national defense” by an additional 30 to 40 billion dollars per year to further empower what is far and away the worlds most awesome military. This increase would supplement the Pentagon’s current 439 billion dollar annual budget, as well as the additional 9.8 billion dollars spent each month to prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost some 450 billion thus far.3

For Romney, this spending is necessary to confront what he considers to be threats to US national security, in other words to US access to energy, from a variety of oil producing regions of the world, including Iraq, Venezuela, and Iran. The Iraq war must continue because a US withdrawal from the country would “present grave risks to the United States and the world. Iran could seize the Shiite south, Al-Qaeda could dominate the Sunni west and Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey.” Though Romney does not explain why Iranian control of the south of Iraq would pose a grave “threat to the United States and the world” the reasons for US opposition to it is widely understood. While it is true that the Shiite south of Iraq would fall heavily under Iranian influence in the event of a US withdrawal (in fact it largely is despite the current US occupation), this would be a much more natural state of affairs than for the region to remain under US control, given the close cultural, religious, and economic ties between the Shiites of southern Iraq and Shiite Iranians, and given the widespread antipathy of Shiite Iraqis toward the United States.

The problem with the Shiite south of Iraq coming under Iranian control then, from a US perspective, does not revolve around concern for the area’s inhabitants, but rather out of fear that an Iranian regime already oil-rich in its own territory, would control the vast majority of Iraq’s oil resources as well, themselves the second or third largest in the world. This poses a strategic threat to US control of the region’s energy resources, raising the specter of another “oil shock,” also a key Romney concern.

To maintain control of the oil of the Iraqi people then, Romney advocates further escalating a conflict that now costs the lives of some 34,000 Iraqis per year,4 by sending an additional 100,000 American troops to Iraq to pacify what is now widespread Iraqi resistance to the US military presence, from both indigenous Shiite militias and indigenous Sunni insurgent groups. Prosecuting an offensive war for control of energy resources abroad violates the teachings of the Book of Mormon, in which the Nephite people are forbidden to “raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.” 5

Romney’s Foreign Affairs article also gives lengthy attention to the threat posed by militant Islamic groups. Romney writes, “Many still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam, specifically by those extremists who promote violent Jihad against the United States and the universal values Americans espouse.” For Romney, the threat from such extremists is “just as real” as that once posed by Hitler and Stalin. The claim that the “terrorists” hate us for our “values” is a tired one, which exhibits Romney’s extreme ignorance about Islam and, more importantly, the history of US military intervention in the Middle East. Were Romney truly concerned about the threat from militant Islamic groups, he would have heeded CIA predictions that invading Iraq would increase the threat of Jihadi terror attacks, or paid some attention to the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which confirmed such previous predictions three years after the initial US invasion. After discussions with intelligence officials familiar with the classified report, Mark Mazetti of the New York Times reports that the NIE “represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services” of the US government and that it describes how “the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks,” while “previous drafts describe actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.” 6 Rather than advocating a US withdrawal from Iraq, and the closing of the US detention facility at Guantanamo in order to reduce the terror threat, Romney advocates escalating the US presence in Iraq as described above, while also claiming that President Bush’s plans to eventually close Guantanamo are “the wrong course to take.” “My view is,” explained Romney in a recent presidential debate, “we ought to double Guantanamo.”7

While advocating an escalation of the Iraq War, with its attendant increase in terrorism, Romney has also gone to lengths to incite war against Iran, due to its attempts to develop nuclear energy according to its legal right under the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, of which it is signatory. Iran’s use for nuclear energy was described well thirty years ago by then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, at a time when the US was facilitating Iranian nuclear energy development: The “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” 8

But according to Romney, Iran is planning to acquire nuclear weapons purely to commit genocide against Israel. In an interview with ABC News, Romney was asked to comment on whether he would use military force against Iran to prevent it from building nuclear weapons (of which Iran’s development of nuclear energy is supposedly proof). In response, Romney stated:

“Well, not now. But, of course, the military option has to be on the table. Anyone who’s considering being president hopefully will say that military options are always on the table when you consider a nation, which is a genocidal nation, a suicidal nation, in some respects, coming from Ahmadinejad, you say to yourself this is a setting where, of course, you have to consider the possibility of military action, but we’re not there. . . [Iran is] a nation where people participate in suicide bombing and that kind of a suggestion, I think it was former President Rafsanjani who talked about Israel being a one-bomb nation, meaning they could not survive one bomb, but they, Iran, could survive one bomb.

It’s like, ‘Are you kidding? Are you suggesting that you’d be willing to take a bomb in order to eliminate another people?’ This is a nation where the genocidal inclination is really frightening and having a nation of this nature develop nuclear weaponry is unacceptable to this country and to the Middle East.

And that’s why I believe we should not be sitting down having a nice chat with the Iranians, but instead communicating to the religious leadership and the people that the consequences of going nuclear are very unattractive. That’s a message we should be sending throughout the world.” 9

Romney’s assertion that Iranians are genocidal derives from comments former Iranian President Rafsanjani gave on October 28th, 2005: “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.” 10 In other words, the Islamic world would achieve strategic parity with the US/Israel because both parties would have nuclear weapons. This would create a stalemate in terms of the use of such weapons, just as existed between the US and the Soviet Union. Further, the US/Israel would not be able to impose its will on Iran or other Islamic states, as it is able to now (the US had a free hand to invade Iraq in 2003, while Israel was free to invade and bomb Lebanon in 2006) knowing that any military confrontation could now trigger a nuclear exchange, which would in fact be far more damaging to Israel, because it is a small country geographically. In Rafsanjani’s view, a nuclear-armed Islamic country would serve as a deterrent to US/Israeli aggression and in fact make the region more peaceful. The fact that the US invaded a defenseless Iraq with no weapons of mass destruction, while refraining from an attack on North Korea, which does have a credible military deterrent, supports this assertion. Rafsanjani nowhere expresses the desire to commit Genocide against the Jewish people, let alone to allow tens of millions of Muslims to die simply to achieve such a goal.

Romney is happy to distort Rafsanjani’s comments in order to support his calls for a war of aggression against Iran, while ignoring that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds real power in Iran, rather than the president, issued a binding religious edict saying the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons was against Islamic beliefs.11 Khamenei has also made clear Iranian policy toward the state of Israel, which many Muslims consider to be a racist regime erected on Palestinian land through the expulsion of most of its indigenous Muslim and Christian inhabitants:

“We hold a fair and logical stance on the issue of Palestine. Several decades ago, Egyptian statesman Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was the most popular Arab personality, stated in his slogans that the Egyptians would throw the Jewish usurpers of Palestine into the sea. Some years later, Saddam Hussein, the most hated Arab figure, said that he would put half of the Palestinian Land on fire. But we would not approve of either of these two remarks. We believe, according to our Islamic principles, that neither throwing the Jews into the sea nor putting the Palestinian land on fire is logical and reasonable. Our position is that the Palestinian people should regain their rights. Palestine belongs to Palestinians, and the fate of Palestine should also be determined by the Palestinian people. The issue of Palestine is a criterion for judging how truthful those claiming to support democracy and human rights are in their claims. The Islamic Republic of Iran has presented a fair and logical solution to this issue. We have suggested that all native Palestinians, whether they are Muslims, Christians, or Jews, should be allowed to take part in a general referendum before the eyes of the world and decide on a Palestinian government. Any government that is the result of this referendum will be the legitimate government.” 12

Current Iranian President Ahmadinejad, often accused of trying to “wipe Israel off the map” with the use of nuclear weapons, stated in an interview with Time Magazine:

“We are opposed to nuclear weapons. We think it has been developed just to kill human beings. It is not in the service of human beings. For this reason, last year in my address to the U.N. General Assembly, I suggested that a committee should be set up in order to disarm all the countries that possess nuclear weapons. . . Our position toward the Palestinian question is clear: we say that a nation has been displaced from its own land. Palestinian people are killed in their own lands, by those who are not original inhabitants, and they have come from far areas of the world and have occupied those homes. Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, an then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way. Do you have any other suggestions?”13

Because Palestinian Muslims and Christians outnumber Israeli Jews, a referendum allowing all inhabitants of both Israel and Israeli occupied Palestine to choose their preferred government would end in the transformation of the “Jewish state,” which discriminates on the basis of religion and ethnicity, into a state for all its citizens, like the United States. In other words, Ahmadinejad advocates democracy in Israel/Palestine on the basis of a one state solution, something that many non-Zionist Jews themselves advocate, such as Israeli academic Uri Davis. The Iranian proposal resembles the transformation which took place in Apartheid South Africa, when the white government finally relinquished power and allowed black South Africans equal rights, including voting rights, or when the US government finally allowed equal rights for Blacks and Native Americans. Obviously the merits and justice of a one state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can be debated, but to say that the Iranian leadership advocates genocide against Israel is like saying that Nelson Mandela advocated genocide against South Africa’s white ruling minority.

In a speech printed in the New York Times, Ahmadinejad does not comment that Israel should be “wiped off the map,” but rather that “the occupying regime must be wiped off the map,” clearly indicating regime change, rather than the destruction of a whole nation and people. Such a stance resembles the US policy of regime change toward Iran, though the US has made clear that military options are on the table to bring it about, as opposed to Ahmadinajad’s suggestion that Israeli regime change be accomplished through a non-violent democratic referendum. That Ahmadinejad does not advocate a second holocaust against Jews is further evidenced by the fact that Ahmadinejad references in the same speech the demise of Iran’s previous regime, that of the pro-Western Shah, as an example of how the current Israeli regime, which rules over millions of Palestinians through a military dictatorship in the Palestinian occupied territories, could be wiped away. Obviously, the fall of the Shah’s pro-American regime and the emergence of the Islamic Republic did not occur through annihilating the Iranian people.14 Further, there are some 20,000 Iranian Jews, and an Iranian member of Parliament. If the Iranian leadership had designs similar to those of Hitler, these Iranian Jews would have been killed already.

Though there is clearly no reason to trust the seemingly benevolent pronouncements of the Iranian leadership, any more than those of US leaders, it seems reasonable to demand of Romney at least some evidence, besides distorted comments taken out of context, to support his accusations that an entire nation is lathing at the mouth to commit genocide, particularly since the consequence of such accusations, by Romney and others, may be the initiation of a preemptive US assault against Iran with its accompanying death and destruction, as Romney is clearly threatening. Romney seems to need no more evidence that Iran is a threat in order to bomb and possibly invade it, than did Hitler when he declared that Czechoslovakia was “a dagger aimed at the heart of Germany” and that the Czechoslovak threat thus needed to be preemptively eliminated. Hitler’s preemptive invasions of Czechoslovakia and other neighboring European nations became defined at the Nuremburg tribunals after World War II as the crime of “aggression” which is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Romney’s attempts to incite the American public to wage a war of aggression against a nation that has never attacked us, while in the midst of his own bid to become President, are reminiscent not only of Hitler’s crimes, but also of those of Amalickiah, the wicked Lamanite king written about in the Book of Mormon, who, “began to inspire the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi; yea he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites. And thus he did inspire their hearts against the Nephites, . . . Therefore he had accomplished his design, for he had hardened the hearts of the Lamanites and blinded their minds, and stirred them up to anger, insomuch that he had gathered together a numerous host to go to battle against the Nephites.” 15

Attempts such as Romney’s to incite the American public to violence, or to stir them up to anger against another people, are explicitly elsewhere in the Book of Mormon as well. Upon descending out of heaven to show his resurrected body to the Nephite people in the Americas, Jesus Christ teaches the Nephites that, “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold this is not my doctrine to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another, but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”16

Although Romney’s membership in the Mormon Church has been a prominent issue in discussions about his candidacy for President, his eagerness to go to war contradicts many key tenets of Mormonism, while committing such vast resources to war making would make it difficult for Romney to focus on aiding the poor, both in the US and abroad, which is at the core of Mormon theology. As a result, Romney may find that many of his co-religionists look towards candidates outside the Mormon faith, such as Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul, to discover some one who might govern the country in a manner our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ might approve of.

  1. Quoted in “Mormon President Represents Religiously Informed Humanism,” Opinion Page, Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday June 17, 2007.
  2. Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007 Edition, p. 17-32. All quotes not footnoted come from this article.
  3. Johnson, Chalmers. “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” Metropolitan Books, New York, 2006, p. 275, 276.
  4. “Iraqi Death Toll Exceeded 34,000 in 2006, U.N. Says,” New York Times, Jan. 16th 2007.
  5. The Book of Mormon, Alma 48:14.
  6. 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, reported by Mark Mazetti “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” New York Times, September 24, 2006.
  7. “Romney: Closing Guantanamo ‘Wrong Course,’” CNN Political Ticker, June 22, 2007. http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2007/06/22/romney-closing-guantanamo-wrong-course/
  8. As quoted in “Interventions,” Noam Chomsky, City Lights Books, San Francisco, p. 181.
  9. Romney: Iran Is ‘Suicidal’ Nation, Presidential Contender Mitt Romney, R-Mass., Says U.S. Should Not Engage With Iran. ABC News, February 16th, 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/ February 19, 2007
  10. “A Genocidal, Suicidal Nation” Mitt Romney Joins Iran’s Hysterical Accusers, By GARY LEUPP, February 19th, 2007, www.antiwar.com.
  11. Iran MP’s Oblige government to revise IAEA Cooperation, Reuters, December 28th . http://in.news.yahoo.com/061228/137/6amwf.html.
  12. Leader’s Speech to Government Officials on Eid Al-Fitr, November 4, 2005, News site of the Institute for Preserving and Publishing Works by Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. http://www.khamenei.ir/EN/Speech/detail.jsp?id=20051104A)
  13. Time Magazine, Sunday Sept. 17th 2006, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,153577-2,00.html
  14. President Ahmedinejad’s speech to an Islamic Students Conference on “The World Without Zionism”, October 26th 2005 as printed in the New York Times, October 30th 2005. “We had a hostile regime in this country, which was undemocratic, armed to the teeth and, with SAVAK, its security apparatus of SAVAK watched everyone. An environment of terror existed. When our dear Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said that the regime must be removed, many of those who claimed to be politically well informed said it was not possible. . . But our people resisted and it is 27 years now that we have survived without a regime dependant on the United States. . . Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime [Israel] must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement.”
  15. The Book of Mormon, Alma 48:1-3.
  16. The Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 11:28-30.