Will Inboden asks another question about the non-event in Seoul two weeks ago:
Past hot-mic slips have been evanescent stories at best, but this one is likely to enter the annals of Obama administration foreign policy infelicities in the same file as “leading from behind,” returning the Churchill bust to the UK, and showing the Dalai Lama the back door. The question is why?
It might help if we recognize that these “infelicities” have one thing in common: they are extremely minor, irrelevant, meaningless episodes that partisan opponents latch onto in the mistaken belief that they are major blunders that reflect some deeper or “hidden” agenda. The Churchill bust story is far and away the most idiotic complaint on this list. “Leading from behind” was a remarkably foolish phrase that an anonymous adviser used to describe the idea that there were significant obstacles to U.S. influence and power. Because of this, the U.S. had to wield influence in less direct and obvious ways than in the past. If the phrasing was poor, the response to it has been absurd. Republican candidates started mocking this phrase with regularity, as if the public had been clamoring for more direct and assertive U.S. involvement in another country’s civil war.
It’s telling that no one remembers the follow-up sentence from the Lizza article: “Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength.” Presumably many Republican hawks would agree with this statement, but for reasons of partisan point-scoring they have to pretend that “leading from behind” means something else. Likewise, the “flexibility” remarks don’t imply pending post-election U.S. concessions on missile defense, and it’s silly to think that they do, but Republican hawks feel obliged to pretend that it was a very significant episode. They have managed to keep the story about this non-event alive for two weeks, which might be impressive if it didn’t reek so strongly of election-year desperation.