A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo criticizing those who provoke religious hatred was released four to five hours before crowds began gathering outside the embassy, roughly seven hours before the embassy walls were breached and 10 hours before the attacks in Libya that claimed the life of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In other words, when Mitt Romney claimed that it is “disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” he was being flagrantly irresponsible and flat-out wrong. It would be wrong to accuse any American of sympathizing with those who had just killed a U.S. ambassador without strong evidence to support it; to accuse the commander in chief of such sentiments at the very moment that he is attempting to protect U.S. interests and personnel overseas represents a low point in this country’s political history.
Nonetheless, Romney insists that he stands by those statements. “I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation,” he said Wednesday, even after the chain of events had become clear. “An apology for America’s values is never the right course.”
Very well. The Romney campaign already seems to be spiraling downward — the most recent Fox News poll has him down five points to Barack Obama among likely voters — and if this is the way he wishes to conduct himself and be judged, so be it. He has chosen his ground, such as it is; let him defend it.
Romney and his staff also say that they embrace this debate because it opens the door to a more thorough discussion of foreign policy in general. As he said Wednesday, “American cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead. American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don’t spin out of control.”
So let’s go ahead and have that discussion, shall we?
The general outline of the Romney foreign policy critique is pretty familiar. He would not apologize and he would not “lead from behind.” He would be strong. He would lead. However, it is necessary to point out that those are not positions, they are a pose.
Romney initially supported U.S. military action against Libya, but once that action got underway, he condemned it. He also condemned the Obama administration’s decision to take out Moammar Gaddafi, at least until Gaddafi was dead, at which point Romney decided to celebrate it. Somewhere in that vacillating, waffling series of positions, Romney was presumably being “strong” and “resolute.” But it is hard to pinpoint what that exact moment might have been, fleeting as it apparently was. Given that history, it is almost laughable to see Romney criticize his opponent for “a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy,” as he did Wednesday.
His policy pronouncements on Iraq and Afghanistan have followed a similar pattern. He has insisted that U.S. forces remain indefinitely in both countries, and has also expressed strong support for withdrawing them. In Afghanistan, he has talked a tough game at times, insisting that we should never negotiate with the Taliban and instead should “go anywhere they are and we kill them.” He has also strongly condemned the Obama administration for setting a 2014 date for withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan. Yet this very week, he publicly embraced that deadline, saying that ”Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” which is precisely the Obama strategy.
At which point in that wandering was Romney “leading from the front”? It is hard to reconcile his insistence that America “cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead” when he himself seems eager to lead in so many directions. His lack of discipline and professionalism in foreign policy is dismaying; indeed, that lack of discipline helps to explain how he issued the disastrous statements that got him into this mess in the first place.
In his comments yesterday, Romney also said that “We must strive to ensure that the Arab spring does not become an Arab winter.” It is a nice phrase, one with which most Amerians would agree. But again, in the interest of clarity, what does it mean?
In the wake of the attacks in Libya and Egypt, does Romney support additional financial and diplomatic support for the emerging civilian governments in those countries, as advocated by Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham? Or does he support reducing that aid as punishment, as recommended by Republicans in the House? Certainly, the last thing the Israelis want is an end to U.S. involvement in Egypt.
Which would be the “strong” approach that Romney so often preaches? If he wishes to lead from the front, now would be a good time to demonstrate the capability to do so. Because so far, he has failed that test miserably.
– Jay Bookman