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Hawks Have No “Larger Argument” to Make

Charles Krauthammer is still clinging to a weird revisionist story of what Romney did in response to the embassy and consulate attacks:

He issued a two-sentence critique of the initial statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on the day the mob attacked. The critique was not only correct but vindicated when the State Department disavowed the embassy statement. However, because the critique was not framed within a larger argument about the misdirection of U.S. Middle East policy, it could be — and was — characterized as a partisan attack on the nation’s leader at a moment of national crisis.

There’s something impressive about the willful refusal to acknowledge what Romney did two weeks ago. The Obama administration is now coming under appropriate scrutiny for its handling of the attack on the Benghazi consulate, but it is telling that this is exactly the sort of scrutiny Romney could not provide then or now. Romney’s first impulse wasn’t to raise legitimate questions about security or post-war instability in Libya. It was to recycle his big lie about the “apology tour” and to tell a new lie that the administration sympathized with the people attacking our diplomatic missions. Even before he knew everything that had happened, Romney’s instinct was to seek political advantage and to spread falsehoods. Romney’s failure wasn’t that he didn’t frame his ill-advised, dishonest attack correctly, and it’s difficult to imagine how he could have framed it in a way that didn’t rely on his earlier nonsense arguments. It would have been useful to have a credible challenger capable of making sound criticisms of administration actions, but that is exactly the candidate we don’t have.

As a sometimes-confused supporter of the Libyan war, Romney never made any argument for how the U.S. should act differently in post-war Libya or why it would have been in the U.S. interest to act differently. He was too busy prattling on about “leading from behind,” which implied that he would have wanted the U.S. to have a more prominent role in the war than it did have. There’s no reason to believe that this would have changed anything once the war was over. As ever, it is a talking point in search of a policy.

After the war in Libya ended last year, Mali was destabilized by some of the returning Tuareg mercenaries who had fought for Gaddafi. Mali was effectively partitioned as a result of the separatist rebellion aided by the influx of men and weapons, and half of its territory came to be dominated by militia and Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Mali’s U.S.-friendly democratic government was overthrown in a military coup in response to the gains of Tuareg rebels in the north, and hundreds of thousands of people in a drought-afflicted region were turned into refugees and internally displaced persons. The refugee and political crises in Mali and neighboring countries are ongoing. U.S. and allied intervention in Libya contributed to all of this and made it possible.

A credible, semi-competent opposition party and presidential nominee would have been able to make well-founded criticisms of this. Once again, that is the sort of opposition party we don’t have. They said nothing. Since the party leaders and Romney had been entirely in favor of the Libyan intervention, and chastised Obama for being too slow to start an unnecessary war, they were in no position to draw attention to the war’s destructive consequences, and they were not inclined to do so. Romney is incapable of “going for the larger argument,” as Krauthammer urges, because there is no larger argument that he or his hawkish allies can make. Where Obama has bungled things, he has usually bungled them by being too hawkish. His failures are their failures.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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