To a certain extent, no one should be surprised by Mitt Romney’s decision to seize on — actually, make that exploit — the attack on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Egypt and Libya as ammunition in the presidential campaign.
After all, the Republican presidential nominee wrote a book in 2010 premised on, and titled with, the false notion that Barack Obama has been going around the world apologizing for America.
“There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama’s words are like kindling to them,” Romney wrote in “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.”
Romney repeated this falsehood in his acceptance speech in Tampa, claiming that Obama launched his presidency “with an apology tour.”
Oddly enough, Romney’s evidence for Obama’s alleged apologizing is bereft of certain words — like apology, or sorry, or regret. To Romney, apologizing means never actually having to say you’re sorry.
In the speeches that Romney criticized, Obama concedes imperfections and even mistakes in American behavior, but he couples those acknowledgments with critiques of other nations as well.
Thus, in his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama referred to the “tumultuous history” between the United States and Iran, noting that “in the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Then he immediately pivoted to Iran’s “role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.”
This is more factual recitation of history than craven slobbering, yet to Romney it is part of “the steady stream of criticisms, put-downs and jabs directed at the nation he was elected to represent and defend.”
So when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” Romney was predisposed to see it through the distorted, if politically convenient, lens of apology.
Facts be damned. The embassy statement was issued Tuesday morning, before the protests started, not to mention before the embassy walls were breached, not to mention before there was a murderous assault on U.S. diplomats in Libya. On Tuesday night, Romney issued his statement describing the administration’s behavior as “disgraceful” and charging that its “first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
By that point, the Cairo embassy, the State Department spokesman and the secretary of State had all condemned the attacks. “Let me be clear,” Hillary Clinton’s statement said. “There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
As irresponsible as Romney’s behavior Tuesday night, even worse was his move to double down at a Wednesday morning news conference, following word of the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other American diplomats in Libya. Tuesday night, before the killings were known, was amateurish. Wednesday morning was unconscionable.
“It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values,” Romney said, apparently believing that the embassy should have been able to foretell the attack before it occurred. In the space of three sentences, he criticized the administration for standing by the embassy statement and accused it of sending “mixed signals” by disavowing it.
The question and answer session was even worse. “Simply put, having an embassy which . . . has been breached and has protesters on its grounds, having violated the sovereignty of the United States, having that embassy reiterate a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech is not the right course for an administration,” Romney said.
Leaving aside his flawed timeline — later tweets from the embassy combined criticism of anti-Muslim bigotry with condemnation of the attacks — Romney’s interpretation of what constitutes an apology is once again far off-base.
“We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” the original embassy statement said. This formulation reflects a sensitive balancing of competing interests, not an apology for free speech. You can deplore the idiocy of the movie but defend to the death the producer’s right to make it.
To Romney, this amounts to “a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.”
There is something disgraceful happening here, but it doesn’t involve a comment by an obscure embassy spokesman. It is Romney’s cynical, dishonest effort to take advantage of this national tragedy for his own political ends.
By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 13, 2012
This, apparently, is the sum total of Mitt Romney’s case for being better at foreign policy than Barack Obama: He’s better at rattling sabers than the president is. And while in many ways that means the substance of Romney’s would-be policy really isn’t that different from Obama’s, the stylistic differences are dangerous. To put it bluntly, the kind of swaggering, blustering foreign policy Romney and his neocon advisers favor plays right into the hands of the people who do things like attack and kill U.S. diplomats.
The domestic/political portion of this fight started Tuesday when the Romney campaign issued a statement condemning the Obama administration for what Team Romney characterized as sympathizing with the terrorists who had killed an American consulate worker in Benghazi (the full facts of four Americans, including the ambassador, having been killed were at that point still unknown). That the statement in question was issued before the deadly attacks and without the administration’s clearance proved of little interest to Romney and his advisers who then doubled down even in the face of the inconvenient facts as well as widespread criticism for politicizing a foreign crisis.
Here’s where things stood by week’s end: Romney had resorted to justifying his attacks on the administration by pointing out that the White House had repudiated the offending statement and was, finally, reduced to chastising the Cairo embassy for not updating its Web site fast enough. And while he and his allies had characterized the statement, which condemned an anti-Muslim online video, as an apology for American values, he had … condemned the anti-Muslim online video. Finally, in an interview broadcast Friday morning, Romney told ABC News that he had the same “red line” as Obama in regards to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.
What’s left in terms of how Romney would conduct foreign policy differently? Romney would talk loudly while brandishing a big stick. Marc Ambinder notes that he seems to subscribe to the theory of “provocative weakness“—that anything less than a robustly muscular U.S. global posture invites very bad things. So under a Romney administration, an adviser to the candidate opined to the Washington Post, there would be no attacks on American embassies or diplomats for fear of American toughness.
“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser, said in an interview. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”
Williamson added, “In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations — the respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and we can’t even protect sovereign American property.”
That is a compelling story, if only because it’s so fantastical. Let’s unpack it: Disgruntled Muslims wouldn’t take to the streets if Romney were president because they’d be cowed by American resolve? How does that work? They’d be worried that if they demonstrated President Romney would give them all a stern talking to? Or that he’d send in SEAL Team Six to quiet them down?
The “provocative weakness” theory falls apart in the face of nonstate actors on the world stage, people for whom American force is less a threat than a recruiting tool. The fact of the matter is that assuming the people who killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues were al Qaeda allies or sympathizers (or al Qaeda itself), they didn’t attack the U.S. embassy because they didn’t fear a U.S. response; they crave a U.S. response, preferably of the ham handed, military variety to bolster their recruiting and inflame the kind of anti-American sentiment that is so clearly present in the Muslim world today.
“[Osama] bin Laden, when he was alive, was very consciously aware that encouraging the United States to lead with its chin—to lead with a military response to everything—would bog us down,” says Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network. “And that was very much part of bin Laden’s vision and you could see that on jihadi chat boards and so on.”
And it’s worth noting that the “provocative weakness” theory hasn’t held up in the real world either. As Kevin Drum writes today :
At one level, of course, this is just dumb campaign bravado. Your guy is weak and vacillating and our enemies laugh at him. My guy is strong and resolute and our enemies fear him. But it’s also nonsense. Reagan’s resolve didn’t stop Lebanese militants from bombing a Marine barracks in Beirut. Bush Sr.’s resolve didn’t stop Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait. Bush Jr.’s resolve didn’t stop al-Qaeda from destroying the World Trade Center and killing 3,000 Americans.
In that respect, anyway, Romney’s foreign policy is much like his domestic policy: Light on details but apparently a retread of the same stuff that didn’t work out so well the first couple of times we tried them.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, September 14, 2012
The events of the last 48 hours have made it indisputably clear: America cannot trust Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan with our national security.
This morning’s Huffington Post headline summarized what it called, “The Verdict: Most Craven and Ill-Advised Move…Not Worthy of A President… Bungle… Utter Disaster… Not Presidential… Lehman Moment… Over the Top… Desperate… Awesomely Awful.”
Notwithstanding the horrible reviews, Romney and his campaign tripled down on their criticism of President Obama and the American diplomats who were on the ground and about to come under attack.
Romney’s neocon foreign policy adviser, Richard Williamson, told the Washington Post that, “There is a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation.” He’s right about that. We’d be in a very different — and dangerous — situation if Mitt Romney were in charge of American national security. There are at least five reasons why every American should be frightened at the prospect of Mitt Romney as Commander-in-Chief.
1). Mitt Romney has no guiding principles when it comes to foreign policy — or anything else for that matter — but one: his own personal ambition. Tuesday night Romney demonstrated once again that he would take any cheap shot that he thought would serve his ambition to be president, regardless of its impact on American national security or our people on the ground.
Of course this is nothing new. Romney has demonstrated time and time again that he has no lasting commitment to principle whatsoever. He has gone from being pro-choice to ardently anti-abortion; morphed from a Massachusetts moderate to a “severe conservative”; demonstrated his willingness to buy companies, load them with debt, bleed them dry and destroy the lives of workers and communities all to make money for himself and his investors.
After favoring immigration reform in the past, Romney became the most anti-immigrant major presidential candidate in modern history.
Romney drafted and passed RomneyCare and then promised to repeal a similar bill when one was passed by President Obama and a Democratic Congress. Why? Because that’s what the thought was necessary to get the Republican nomination for president.
Romney has no North Star guiding his behavior except his desire to enhance his own personal wealth and his own driving ambition.
Someone like that is the last guy you want to trust to make the tough decisions to protect American national security. Great statesmen are people who think more about the next generation than the next election. They are people who are willing to take the political heat because they are committed to doing what is right to protect the American people. They are heroes of John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, not the men described in John Dean’s book on the Nixon White House, Blind Ambition.
2). Mitt Romney has no vision. In his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention he made fun of President Obama’s concern for global climate change and his commitment toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. Romney actually opposed passage of the START II Treaty with Russia that reduced nuclear weapons to their current levels.
Romney flat-out opposes — makes fun of — investments in renewable energy sources that would begin the process of freeing us from the tyranny of Big Oil — and oil dictators — and addresses the problem of climate change.
Rather than support movements to limit the exploding growth in the world’s population, Romney actually opposes support for birth control.
Have you ever heard word one from Romney about protecting our natural resources, or investment in de-salinization, or strengthening the international co-operation needed to deal with cyber-security, or frankly any of these critical issues?
Mitt Romney seems to have absolutely no interest in or knowledge of history or the forces that are changing the world. And he certainly has never expressed a long-term view of how he might hope to shape the world as president of the United States. Let’s face it, the guy is shallow.
Voters correctly want leaders with vision, because as the great baseball player Yogi Berra used to say: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
3). The Romney-Ryan team has less experience in foreign policy than any two candidates for America’s top offices since World War II.
Barry Goldwater may have scared the bejesus out of many Americans, but at least he was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Air Corp during World War II and had served on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate.
When Senator Barack Obama ran for president, he chose the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, as his running mate.
Collectively Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have zero foreign policy experience. And it shows.
4). Romney has demonstrated he has no capacity to empathize with other people. He has no idea how to put himself in their shoes — or even to understand how they hear the things he is saying. That’s one of the main reasons why, as Senator Kerry said at the Democratic Convention, Romney’s “foreign policy tour” earlier this summer was more like a “blooper reel.” It’s why, when it comes to foreign affairs, Romney is a bull in the china closet.
Romney seems incapable of understanding that when you’re asked about your opinion of preparations for the London Olympics in London days before the event, the Brits might be offended when (presumably to demonstrate how much he knew about running Olympic games) he questioned their readiness. He apparently had no clue that Palestinians might take offense when he said he thought that their economic problems stemmed from their “culture.”
Romney is typical of wealthy people who think they are very “cosmopolitan” because they can jet around the world and stay in first-class hotels, but don’t have a clue how normal people — or other cultures — experience the world. He is upper-class parochial. He thinks everyone thinks and talks and believes the same way as his classmates at prep school or colleagues in the Bain boardroom.
5). Romney has surrounded himself with many of the same neocon foreign policy advisers that got America into the horrific war in Iraq. One of those advisers, Richard Williamson, actually had the audacity to argue that “respect for America has gone down” under President Obama. Maybe in some parallel universe.
In fact, every international poll showed that George Bush, Dick Cheney and their neocon crew caused respect for the United States to plummet to new lows. And under President Obama respect for America and its values has massively increased. But then again, as the Romney campaign has made clear, they won’t allow their campaign to be governed by “fact checkers.”
If we needed reminding, this week made indelibly clear that a guy with no principles except his own ambition, and no vision whatsoever, will allow himself to be led around by the nose by the passionate Neo-Cons who want a restoration of the Bush-Cheney years. Romney’s performance should serve as a warning to all Americans: If you liked the Iraq War, you’ll love Mitt Romney’s foreign policy.
By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, September 14, 2012
The Danger of “Scoring Points”: By Trying To Make Obama Look Bad, Romney Makes Himself Look Like An Asshole
Mitt Romney is running for president. And I guess it can be hard, when you’re running for president and your focus every day is convincing the American voter that you’re a great guy and your opponent is awful, not to approach every new development in the world by seeing it as yet another opportunity to tell everyone that your opponent is awful. But when the only question you ask yourself is, “How can I use this to make my opponent look bad?” you run the risk of making yourself look like a jerk. Sometimes during a campaign, a candidate will be asked, “Is there anything your opponent has done that you agree with?” or “Is there anything good you can say about him?” Usually they say, “He has a lovely family,” as though the thought that he might have done a single thing right is just impossible to contemplate. To say otherwise would be passing up an opportunity to “score points.”
And this, I think, is the root of why Romney did what he did yesterday and came out looking like such an asshole. American civil servants had died in the line of duty, and the only thing he could think to do was use it as the occasion for a weak, unpersuasive attack on Barack Obama, delivered at an appallingly inappropriate moment. All he wanted was to “score points.”
Romney seems to be laboring under the mistaken belief that his challenge on foreign policy is to make voters think poorly of Barack Obama. In fact, his challenge on foreign policy is to make voters consider him a credible president. That’s really all. As long as they think Romney would be reasonable on foreign policy, which is a secondary consideration for almost all of them anyway, it would be enough. Romney is just never going to be able to argue persuasively that Obama has been a foreign policy disaster, and he doesn’t have to. Four years ago the average voter thought the sitting president was such a disaster, committing blunder after blunder and undermining American interests around the world. But today only the most partisan Republican believes that, and Romney no longer needs to appeal to partisan Republicans.
At times of crisis and tragedy, Americans want our leaders to channel the emotions we’re feeling and be the people we want ourselves to be. That’s why, for instance, the best moment of George W. Bush’s presidency was when he stood on top of the rubble at the World Trade Center and said, “I hear you, the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” For all the spectacular screw-ups that came afterward, at that moment Bush perfectly expressed Americans’ anger and their desire to be strong and resilient (and take revenge). That’s why his approval ratings shot up to over 90 percent.
Mitt Romney failed to realize that when Americans are killed overseas, it’s not like every other thing that happens during a campaign. According to The New York Times, Romney’s reaction to the violence was actually the product of a lengthy discussion with his aides, during which I guess they agreed that what really mattered in this situation was not so much that American officials had been killed, but that a statement released by the Cairo embassy could, with the proper disingenuous description of the chronology involved, be described as some kind of weakness and “apologizing” and also attributed directly to Barack Obama. It sounds utterly insane, but that’s the conclusion they came to.
What they obviously didn’t do was take a moment to put themselves in the shoes of a typical American. Was the typical American going to learn of these events and say, “What really has me steamed isn’t the murders in Benghazi, it’s that statement the Cairo embassy put out.” Of course not. Instead, the typical American voter ended up watching Romney and saying, “For cripe’s sake, Americans died, all because of some insane amateurish movie, and this is what you have to say? To come out and whine about how the Obama administration handled a frigging tweet sent out by an embassy staffer? Are you kidding me? What a jackass.”
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 13, 2012
The fight is not over. Whether or not Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi defeats the rebels in eastern Libya, any legitimacy he once had has been extinguished. He has weapons, tanks and planes, but he has lost the allegiance of even those elements of Libyan society that had once been willing to wait and hope for political reform. His base of support is now only diehard allies and foreign mercenaries. They might win on the battlefield, but they will lose in the end.
The uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt were precipitating events, but the resistance has drawn its core motivation from Libya’s brutal experience of colonialism. What is most striking about the rhetoric of the rebellion is how the anticolonialist theme that Colonel Qaddafi once deployed has now been turned against him and is being used on Twitter and Facebook. Even as they are assaulted by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, the rebels have resisted calling for forceful Western intervention, though they support the imposition of a no-flight zone.
Libya’s history explains why. From 1911 to 1943, half a million Libyans died under Italian rule, including 60,000 in concentration camps run by the fascists. Colonel Qaddafi’s nationalist populism is rooted in the traumas of the colonial era, which were papered over during the modernizing but out-of-touch monarchy that ruled from 1951 to 1969.
The regime that came into existence in a bloodless coup in 1969 was led by officers who came from lower-middle-class backgrounds, represented all three regions of Libya and had the backing of a population that was largely rural. Although it was anticolonialist and anticommunist and advocated Arab nationalism and Islamic cultural identity, the new government did not have a clearly delineated political agenda; instead it looked for guidance from the 1952 Egyptian revolution. To this ideological mix the Qaddafi faction, which consolidated power in 1976, added its vision of an indigenous, pastoral, socialist society supported by oil revenues and the labor of workers from abroad.
Western analysts focused on the leader’s cult of personality and eccentric style have often misinterpreted his regime as a historical aberration. In fact, it was rooted in the hinterland of south-central Libya, with its pan-Islamic culture, kinship networks, fear of the central state and mistrust of the West. Colonel Qaddafi transformed anticolonialism and Libyan nationalism into a revolutionary ideology, using language understood by ordinary Libyans. He employed his charisma to mobilize Libyans and attack his opponents. He spoke, ate and dressed like a rural tribesman.
But “tribalism,” so frequently mentioned in coverage of the revolt, is not a timeless feature of Libyan society. It was merely one facet of Colonel Qaddafi’s divide-and-conquer style of rule. To weaken opposition from students, intellectuals and the middle class, the regime pursued a policy of “Bedouinization,” attacking urban culture; promoting rural dress, music, festivals and rituals; and reviving institutions like tribal leadership councils. Tripoli, the capital, lost much of its cosmopolitan character even as it grew.
In its first two decades, the revolution brought many benefits to ordinary Libyans: widespread literacy, free medical care and education, and improvements in living conditions. Women in particular benefited, becoming ministers, ambassadors, pilots, judges and doctors. The government got wide support from the lower and middle classes.
But starting in the 1980s, excessive centralization, greater repression by security forces and a decline in the rule of law undermined the experiment in indigenous populism. Institutions like courts, universities, unions and hospitals weakened. Civic associations that had made Libyan society seem more democratic than many Persian Gulf states in the 1970s withered or were eliminated. A hostile international climate, and fluctuations in oil revenues, added to the pressures on the regime.
It responded by transforming its rituals of hero-worship into a rhetoric of pan-African ideology. It also turned to violence. After repeated coup attempts, it beat, imprisoned and exiled dissidents. It staffed security forces with reliable relatives and allies from central and southern Libya. During the 1990s, as economic sanctions took their toll, health care and education deteriorated, unemployment soared, the economy became ever more dependent on oil and the regime grew increasingly corrupt.
But what has escaped notice since the rebellion began in mid-February is the demographic transformation that made it possible. About 80 percent of Libyans now live in urban areas, towns and cities. Libya today has a modern economy and a high literacy rate. The leaders of the uprising include lawyers, judges, journalists, writers, scholars, women’s rights activists, former army officers and diplomats — a sizable urban elite that is battered and restive.
Had Colonel Qaddafi responded with openness to the calls for reform and not overreacted to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the urban elite might have been placated, and the violent rebellion avoided. He blew it. Once his army and police shot at protesters, the pent-up disaffection of Libyan society was unleashed, and it is too late for the regime to bottle it up. In recent weeks the revolt has even gained support from the historically pro-Qaddafi rural populace. No matter how much blood is shed today, the uprising will not be stopped.
By: Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times: Professor of Political Science at the University of New England, and author of “The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization and Resistance, 1830-1932.”