U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today joined Washington Post columnist David Ignatius for a wide-ranging discussion about the growing threats from Russia and China, the upcoming Beijing Olympics and the diplomatic boycott, and the rise of authoritarianism around the world.
Excerpts of his discussion can be found below the video.
On this morning’s announcement that U.S. Special Operations forces had killed overnight the leader of ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi:
I think it was the right thing to do. There’s no question but that ISIS continues to pose a threat to our friends and allies not only in the Middle East but in other parts of the world, that the battle against extremism and jihadism is one that’s not finished. It will go on as long as they continue to attack and to maim and kill. And so removing their commander, the head of ISIS, is obviously a huge accomplishment. It’s to be congratulated. And of course, we look at the members of our military that carried out this strike, and you have to acknowledge their extraordinary bravery and their skill.
On the current status of the military threat and status of diplomatic efforts to avert an invasion into Ukraine:
The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs described the intelligence that that we have with regards to the region. And I would just note that the peril has not been overstated, that the risk to Ukraine, to its leadership, and to the people there is real, and that we are right to be focused on it. And I can’t be more specific than that. I should not be more specific than that. At the same time, I think it’s important that we recognize that the only way we’re going to deter Russia from its attempt to try and rebuild, if you will, parts of the old Soviet Union, in terms of a sphere of influence, is to let them know that we as not just the United States of America but we as NATO and our friends and allies around the world will continue to insist that Russia and China abide by the rules-based international order. And part of that is you don’t invade sovereign nations. You let individuals choose their own course in their nations. And what Russia is attempting to do in Ukraine is unacceptable. And we will carry out various sanctions and punishments if they violate the rules that have been guiding the world for the last 75 years.
On the likelihood of President Putin invading Ukraine:
I think he has every opportunity and is fully prepared to invade. I’ve never tried to get inside the mind of Vladimir Putin. So, I don’t know what his intentions are. But there are a number of things that are possibilities. One is that he intends to invade. Another is that he wanted to test NATO and see whether we’re able to be pulled apart. What he found instead is that we are able to come together. NATO is stronger, I think, by virtue of his threats. And that’s a good thing, because we need our allies and friends, not only as we confront Russia in Europe, but also as we consider China and their expansive interests around the world. So, he failed on that front. And then I think you have to ask whether, you know, he’s going to take military action there or some other type of action. I don’t know the answer to that. But I can tell you that based upon the briefings we’ve had, that the very real threat is not overstated and that we should be prepared in the event that there is an invasion.
On President Biden sending troops to Eastern Europe:
I think it’s important to point out we’re not going to go to war with Russia. We’re not going to enter into a battle. I mean, sending over 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 troops is not going to be in any way sufficient to go into war with a superpower or a major power, Russia, on their continent. That’s not going to happen. But sending those troops as the president has done sends a message to our allies. It says to our allies, we care. We are there for you. We are there for NATO. This is important to us. That’s what it does. It also sends a message to Russia that we are united as NATO, and that we will stand with our NATO allies. We will stand by the commitments we’ve made to NATO. So that’s what’s being done. And I think it’s the right step on the President’s part. Whether those troops should be supplemented or not, those are questions which General Milley and Secretary Austin will have to resolve. But that message is being sent, and that’s appropriate.
On the importance of partnering with our allies:
There’s a perception I think that a lot of us have that are a little older that somehow what America wants, we ought to be able just to ask for and everybody will fall in line. But the world is different than it was in the 1960s. In 1960, the U.S. was responsible for 40 percent of the economy of the entire world. Forty percent. Today it’s 24 percent. And for us to have the capacity to, if you will, get nations like Russia and China to abide by the rules of the international order, we really do need to link arms with other economies in the world. And whether those are economies in the East, or whether they’re economies in Europe or Latin America, it is important for us to have a collaborative response. And so whether you’re concerned about Russia, or concerned about China, or any other malevolent actor, it’s important for us to be aligned with our friends, because that gives us more clout and makes it more likely that people will take what we have to say more seriously.
On the threat from Russia:
I think it’s very possible to minimize the threat because things have been going along pretty well for the last few decades with the exception of Russia’s invasion of Georgia and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to take Crimea. So they’ve shown who they are and recognize the incentives here, which is Russia has a population about, what, about one-tenth the size of China. Russia wants to be a superpower. It wants to be in the room where it happens, if you will. And so it wants more population. It wants more economic base. Look, we don’t buy anything from Russia other than energy. No one does. And their industrial base is just not competitive. So they’re looking for a stronger industrial base, a stronger population base. And so they’re looking at the old Soviet empire, and they want to rebuild part of the Soviet Union, perhaps not with the same title on it but with the same economic and military potential. So that’s just the reality.
John McCain used to say that Russia was a gas station parading as a country. They want to change that. And so you can expect Vladimir Putin to continue to take aggressive action, one, to strengthen his hand; and number two, to weaken ours. And so what I said back in 2012 was based on those things, which is Russia will continue to poke us in the eye to support anything or anyone who opposes our interests, to throw sand in the gears of the international order. Everything they can do to try and weaken us and strengthen them is something they’re going to do. Will we be at war with Russia? No. They don’t want to be at war any more than we do, and we’re a heck of a lot stronger, anyway. But they’re going to do what they think we need to do to try and strengthen their hand. And we have to say to them, look, if you do that on a legitimate basis and try and win hearts and minds of people, that’s fine. But if you invade others or you use illegal means to change leadership in other nations, why that’s something which is going to be an open door to other malevolent actors, and that’s simply not acceptable. And those things inevitably lead to global conflict as they have in our past.
On the growing threat from China:
China is a much greater threat to the global order and to the United States than is Russia. That doesn’t mean we can’t pay attention to more than one thing at a time. And we are, after all, a great nation with a lot of very good people. And China represents a real challenge as a result of a number of things. One is its economy is going to be much larger than ours at some point, and their military will therefore be much larger than ours. We haven’t encountered anything like that, at least in the last 75 years, because when we were battling the Soviet Union in a cold war, they were economically a backwater. But China is going to be a very powerful nation—economically, technologically, and militarily. China has also laid out a very clear game plan as to what they want to accomplish over the next—well over the next 50 years. And we have to read it and be convinced that they intend to do what they say they intend to do, which is to become the world leader, militarily, economically and geopolitically. And they also are threatening a very key group of people in Taiwan. So, we have to recognize that China long term is a much greater threat to the global order even than the geopolitical machinations of Vladimir Putin.
On supporting Taiwan in its effort to counter Chinese aggression:
I think it’s very important for China to recognize that our economic response, and that of our allies and friends around the world, would be withering if China were to invade or otherwise take over the island of Taiwan and the people there. And it’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important for us to be clear in our response to what Russia is doing in Ukraine, because obviously China’s watching as well. And so people who say, hey, why do we care about Ukraine, you know, let’s just forget Ukraine, it’s like, guys, recognize we care about not just Ukraine but Taiwan and other places in the world, Hong Kong, and so forth. And showing resolve is critical in each of these places. So yeah, be very, very clear about the economic implications that we and others would impose on China were there to be malevolent activity by China against Taiwan. But on a military front, that’s something I think you keep in our back pocket and have the Chinese uncertain as to exactly what we would do.
On the 2022 Beijing Olympics:
The International Olympic Committee should have never awarded the Games to Beijing. Now, in the defense of the IOC, Beijing has put in place a number of even more awful actions since the Games were awarded there. But the laws in China, which prohibit any criticism of the CCP, of the Communist Chinese Party, make it unacceptable for athletes to be in that setting. But we are where we are. These athletes have trained their entire lives to be able to be in Olympic Games, and so there they are there. But for their own personal safety, they’re going to have to make sure they abide by Chinese law. And it’s outrageous that they’re put in that position. But there are ways that they can make their feelings known. And I know I’ve read a number of articles and spoken with individuals about the kinds of actions being considered by athletes. They have to obviously make sure they’re following Chinese law. But look, we can’t have the International Olympic Committee awarding Games to authoritarian states that use the Olympics as a platform for propaganda and which threaten the free speech rights of our athletes. That simply can’t happen again.
On the state of democracy and rise of authoritarianism:
More important than who wins an election is that we have elections, and that we have democracy. And right now, in the world, authoritarian regimes are on the march, are gaining ground. Democracy is retreating. And it is simply unacceptable for the leader of the free world to be casting doubt on the reliability of elections, and democracy itself. So, it’s important for me and for other members of my party, and for people of good faith in all parties to come forward and tell the truth and then move on. And by the way, if we want to see a Republican in the White House again, go to work to get someone elected. But spreading untruth about the last election doesn’t help anybody.
I have a chart on the wall in my office that looks at the history of the Earth going back 2000 BC until now and looking at the coming and going of various great civilizations, and there have been many that have come and gone. There are a couple of striking things. One, how many were great, and then cease being great. And the other is that virtually all of them were led by autocrats. Autocratic rule is the—if you will—the default setting of world history. And so this democratic republic as a principle is something which is unusual, and it’s fragile. And I think, you know, we grew up with it and think it’s got to be this way forever. Actually, looking at the history of the world, it doesn’t have to be this way forever. And so you know, I really look to leaders here in Washington and in homes and churches and schools and everywhere, to say, look, disagree with one another. But recognize, nonetheless, in these disagreements, that we respect one another, that we respect the Constitution upon which America was founded. The principles of America are right for us and right for people around the world if they want to enjoy prosperity and happiness. And you know, if you look, again, at world history, nations that began to slide, there been a couple of cases where they’ve been able to turn around, and they turned around in part because of either some crisis that shook them to their roots, or because of a leader that stood up and was able to pull them together, whether it was Lincoln, or Churchill, or even the four great emperors in Rome. There have been people who’ve come forward at a critical time. And I look to our presidents, Republican and Democrat, to bring us together, and hope they will be successful in helping do that.