Romney's Love-Hate Relationship with Hezbollah
In the latest chapter in the Mitt Romney book of flip-flops, the former Massachusetts governor has revealed his love-hate relationship with Hezbollah. Just weeks after including the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite terrorist group in his laundry list of Islamic enemies real or imagined, Romney told an audience today that Hezbollah is the living model of modern health care diplomacy.
Responding to a question about whether he would continue President Bush's funding to combat AIDS in Africa, Romney extolled the virtues of Hezbollah's approach to providing health care and other social services to win hearts and minds in Lebanon:
"Did you notice in Lebanon, what Hezbollah did? Lebanon became a democracy some time ago and while their government was getting underway, Hezbollah went into southern Lebanon and provided health clinics to some of the people there, and schools. And they built their support there by having done so. That kind of diplomacy is something that would help America become stronger around the world and help people understand that our interest is an interest towards modernity and goodness and freedom for all people in the world. And so, I want to see America carry out that kind of health diplomacy."
Of course, that's a far cry from Romney's rhetorical crusade back in May, when he included Hezbollah in his disturbing and confused laundry list of Islamic foes. Conflating Sunni and Shiite, the guilty and the innocent, Romney claimed he has more than Osama Bin Laden in his crosshairs:
"But I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate."
Ironically, that dangerously misguided Romneyism was part of an effort to extricate himself from another flip-flop regarding Osama Bin Laden. There, too, Romney played the "I hate him, I hate him not" game. On April 26, Romney downplayed President Bush's failure to catch Bin Laden, announcing "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." But just one week later on May 3, Romney completed the gymnastic reversal with his manly declaration that "He's going to pay, and he will die."
Romney's latest rhetorical land mine is located at a dangerous crossroads for the Republican Party. It's no doubt true that Hezbollah, like Hamas, has been successful in building support and loyalty through its array of social services. But Mitt violated the GOP orthodoxy of conflating all Muslims into a single threat by praising a group consistently found of the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. And his misstep on AIDS and global health came amid revelations that the Bush administration blocked the release of its own Surgeon General's report on U.S global health strategy.
But we can be confident that Mitt will recover from his brief career as a Hezbollahophile. Tomorrow no doubt, he'll call for Gitmo to be quadrupled and Hezbollah to be strapped to the roof of his car.