Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has been severely critical of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. forces back from Kurdish-controlled areas of the Syria-Turkey border. But in 2007, Romney had a somewhat different view of the Kurds.
On Thursday, shortly after the Trump administration reached a five-day cease-fire (or “pause”) agreement with Turkey to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw, Romney delivered a speech from the floor of the Senate excoriating Trump’s policy.
“It’s argued that the Kurds were fighting for themselves. Of course they were! That’s the nature of an alliance,” Romney said.
“We fight together, each pursuing our own vital interests. … The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”
However, in 2007 — as he was running for president for the first time — Romney took a somewhat different view of the Kurds and their broader national cause.
In an essay for Foreign Policy regarded as a definitive statement of his foreign policy views at the time, Romney warned that “Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey.”
He meant the Iraqi border with Turkey, but Kurdish nationalism is widely recognized as a force throughout the region. Romney’s statement, in full context, was as follows (emphasis added):
Today, the nation’s attention is focused on Iraq. All Americans want U.S. troops to come home as soon as possible. But walking away now or dividing Iraq up into parts and walking away later 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. A regional conflict could ensue, perhaps even requiring the return of U.S. troops under far worse circumstances.
Romney delivered that statement to a live audience as part of a speech on foreign policy to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, on April 10, 2007.
The circumstances then were not too different, even though the war in Syria was several years away: Kurds in Iraq had already proved important U.S. allies. Yet Romney warned, correctly, that they could complicate relations with Turkey.
Rightly or wrongly, Turkey claims that it has a legitimate national security interest in removing Kurdish forces from its border.
Romney once seemed to agree.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
This post has been updated to add video of Romney’s remarks.