Pundits and many in the foreign policy establishment are slamming Mitt Romney today for taking issue with Obama administration statements about attacks on U.S. diplomats and embassies in Libya and Egypt. Their assumption is that in the wake of a tragedy involving the deaths of U.S. personnel, Romney should have held his tongue rather than wading into the controversy and, in the opinion of those critical of his stance, politicizing something that is beyond politics. For some liberals, this will not just reinforce the message of the Democratic National Convention that Romney is not qualified to speak on foreign policy. They hope this will be a turning point in which a close race will turn into a cakewalk for President Obama.
It remains to be seen whether they will turn out to be right. In his statement at the White House this morning, the president sounded and looked presidential when he eulogized Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans. Presidents are at their best when they play commander-in-chief, but the idea that the administration’s mistakes should be treated as out of bounds for Romney is absurd. Contrary to the Democrats’ talking points, President Obama’s foreign policy is a disaster in the making. Though he must be careful, Romney would be a fool to sit by quietly and allow these events to pass without comment, as Islamists rampage in Egypt and Libya while the president snubs Israel and allows Iran to drift toward a nuclear weapon without a serious effort to stop it.
It may well be that the initial statement made by Romney last night was issued on the assumption that the shameful apology issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo after, rather than before, the attack on the compound. But the embassy stuck by the statement and thus showed that criticism of the apology was justified. Either way, it still reflected the moral equivalence and willingness to kowtow to Islamist sensibilities and that has been at the core of this administration’s policies in the Middle East.
The willingness of Secretary of State Clinton to condemn a foolish independent film critical of Islam that is supposedly the reason why Americans are being attacked, before speaking of the outrage against U.S. facilities and personnel, was similarly ill-considered and deserved Romney’s riposte. While the president’s statement today was better, Romney still needs to point out that the administration’s desire to appease and conciliate the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt while refusing to meet the prime minister of Israel or to set red lines on Iran is the product of a mindset that has ill served America’s best interests.
Most Americans are inclined to unite around the government and the president in times of crisis. These attacks, coming as they did on 9/11, were acts of war against the United States. The responsibility for responding to such attacks belongs to the president and it is to be hoped that the administration will react in such a manner as to ensure such actions will not be repeated.
But yesterday’s apologies, as well as those that President Obama has issued before this–such as his June 2009 Cairo speech–are part of the problem that set these events in motion. Romney is right that Obama has sent some mixed signals to the world on the defense of American values and has given a measured rather than a knee-jerk bellicose response. If Americans want a better choice on foreign policy, then this is exactly the time for Romney to be speaking up and giving it to them.