Criticizing Administration Policy Is Legitimate and Absolutely Necessary, Lying About It Isn’t
John Podhoretz’s criticism of yesterday’s media coverage is typical:
This was an effort — not entirely conscious — to make it illegitimate for Romney to criticize the president’s foreign policy at a moment when foreign policy has suddenly taken center stage.
The overwhelming majority of critics objected to Romney’s original statement and press conference remarks because they included the scurrilous lie that the administration sympathized with attackers in Cairo and Benghazi. Romney went ahead and told this lie on the flimsy basis of an unauthorized embassy statement, which he continued to pretend was a response to the attacks, and persisted in his larger lie that has been one of the main themes of his entire campaign (i.e., that Obama has repeatedly “apologized for” America).
No one said that it was illegitimate for Romney to criticize administration foreign policy. Obviously, Romney has been criticizing administration foreign policy for years, and for the most part journalists and analysts have shrugged. To the extent that Romney’s foreign policy arguments have received much attention, they have mostly been dismissed as campaign posturing or described as enigmatically vague, but no one has questioned that Romney has every right to make those arguments. Indeed, many pundits and journalists with a strong interest in foreign policy have wished that Romney would have more to say in greater detail than he has.
Some people said that it was in poor taste to insert himself into the story of the embassy attacks as quickly as he did, but the real issue wasn’t one of timing or decorum. The main problem with Romney’s intervention Tuesday night and yesterday morning was that his entire criticism of the administration’s response to the attacks was thoroughly dishonest. This wasn’t a matter of having a different, more skeptical interpretation of something that happened. This was a case of accusing the administration of something (i.e., sympathizing with embassy attackers) that it plainly had not done and wasn’t about to do. It would have been perfectly legitimate and even useful for Romney to ask what the administration intended to do next, question what the security arrangements in Benghazi had been, and insist on accountability for any mistakes. Instead of offering anything remotely resembling constructive criticism, Romney immediately launched a false attack intended to link his opponent with people responsible for assaulting U.S. diplomatic missions.
Criticism of administration policy by a presidential challenger and his party is both legitimate and necessary. It’s a shame that Romney chose to abuse that responsibility. He has not only further discredited himself, but he has also made it that much harder to hold the administration accountable for any real mistakes or failures they might have made.