‘We’ve Got to Fix Ourselves’

High above California, between campaign stops last week, presidential candidate Mitt Romney submitted to what he jokingly called "35 minutes of torture." In a wide-ranging talk with NEWSWEEK'S Jonathan Darman and Lisa Miller, Romney touched on his family, his religion, his management style—and, excerpted here, Iraq and the distinction he draws between his own leadership style and that of the current president:

Newsweek: IF Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, and you ' re the Republican nominee, and she runs against you and says, " Mitt Romney would be more of George W. Bush, " what ' s your quick response that says, " I am not George W. Bush " ?
Romney: I don't know that I have a great line, but people recognize that no two people are alike. About half the country is Republican, about half is Democrat, and all Republicans don't see every issue the same. Our life experiences are very different, our views on a number of issues are very different. We're our own people. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Republican, I'm a Republican, Mike Huckabee is a Republican. We're different in a number of respects and people will choose among us. And you're right: Hillary Clinton will try to make any person who becomes our nominee into George Bush, but we're all quite different in our own way. And I'm different than President Bush in a number of dimensions despite the fact that I respect him as a fine man and a fine leader, but I'm a different person.

Different how?
Our life experience is quite different in terms of the kinds of enterprises we were involved in. I was 10 years in the consulting business. That means I tend to be highly analytical, data-driven, analysis-driven, so I follow a process for decision making.

The implication there is that he ' s not highly analytical, data-driven, analysis-driven.
No, no, it's not. It's just that somebody who grows up in the consulting business—for instance, Jack Welch. I'm sure he was a data-driven leader when he was at GE but probably not in the same way I was because I was a consultant. I got paid to do more analysis than the executives did themselves, so I'm used to that orientation. I went to law school, so I'm used to the confrontational approach to looking at an issue—where you explore something through your own mind and through other people's minds, going back and forth, and then after that process you begin to settle in and say, "OK, this seems to be the right course." You're shaped by the experiences you have. Sometimes you learn from experience.

How do you think history will judge the presidency of George W. Bush?
I'm not a historian, and we haven't got enough time and distance to assess that. But I think that it will be seen as successes and accomplishments where he gets good grades, and places where he will not get good grades. And clearly, as I've pointed out, with regards to the post-Saddam-collapse management of the Iraq conflict, he will not get good grades there. I think on education and No Child Left Behind, he'll get a good grade. I think [he'll get a good grade on] rebuilding the economy, pulling us out of what could have been a very severe recession or worse following 9/11 and the collapse of the Internet bubble. We were already headed down. We were in the normal, cyclical downturn when the president came in. We could have really gone into a tailspin and he was able to help pull us back. And he brought dignity and personal integrity back to the White House after a very unfortunate series of events during the Clinton years.

I know you ' ve read a lot of books about the Iraq War. If you were going to write a history of the Iraq War and say, " This is the key decision that should have been made differently, " what would it have been?
I think the decision point would have been, well, [it's] referenced in all the books, in Paul Bremer's book it was referencing a point where [the] Brookings [Institution] said, "We think 500,000 troops are going to be necessary to provide security." And others like General [Anthony] Zinni saying, "I think 300,000 troops would be necessary to provide security." There were a number of people saying that, to block down a country that has multiple ethnic groups and is in a bad neighborhood, you're going to need a lot more troops … and a lot of those troops to protect the infrastructure and the population, [to] maintain their military and their police forces and so forth. That decision point was passed without the kind of rigorous debate that I'd hoped for—that would have led to a different setting. Had we been thoroughly prepared for what happened when Saddam fell and his Army fell and we rushed in, had we been ready to

go and pouring more troops in and providing security for the infrastructure, holding the military together, I think we would have had a very different setting today. That was probably the critical time.

But who bears responsibility for that?
I don't point fingers; I wasn't there. I know even in Bremer's book, Paul Bremer says that he raised that with Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld, who nodded and said, "Yeah, thank you," but then he went off to Iraq. So I don't know where it went from there. But obviously the president gets responsibility for things that go well and things that don't go well. I'm sure he'd say the buck stops here, just like Harry Truman said, and I'm sure a do-over is something we'd like.

Should the president take responsibility, then, for that decision not to send more troops?
The president says we made a number of mistakes, as does Tony Blair. That's the nature of conflict and warfare.

You ' re someone who likes to have a plan. Do you have a plan now for the general-election campaign, even though you haven ' t won the nomination yet?
The answer is yes. I have a far more detailed plan about how we're going to win the primaries and the caucuses, although we are working on the general election as well. It's a little premature to have that in great detail. We focus most of our efforts on winning Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, Florida, Illinois, California—those are the ones we're focused on now.

Tell me about the thinking behind your ad saying the Republican Party has to get its house in order.
I think it's very hard to [have] a party stand up and say, "We have to change America and get America on the right track," and then not point out what they have to change about themselves. Our party has let our base and the nation down in some respects. When Republicans act like Democrats, I think the nation loses. I think the Democratic Party has let down its voters as well from time to time. And in our case, I think if you look at Washington these last few years, the overspending, the over-earmarking, the ethical violations that occurred have let down Americans. Let's be honest about it, we've got to fix ourselves and the nation. But if a surgeon is sick, he probably shouldn't be operating. And so we've got to make ourselves as well and whole and strong as we can be to make the nation stronger. Now there's no question, in my view, Republicans and our philosophy will make the nation stronger and more prosperous and peaceful than would the opposition. I don't think Hillary Clinton is aimed in the right direction. I respect her as a thinking person. I'd love to debate her. Look forward to it. But I think our party has the right answers.

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