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The Point of the Romney Bashing

Two more things on Rod Dreher’s post. He says:

[I]t seemed that much of the news coverage focused on whether or not it was appropriate or strategically sound for Romney to have said what he said — horse race stuff. That’s an important angle, but it would be a damn shame if we stayed on that point, and missed the opportunity to talk about the wisdom of the Obama administration’s involving America in a war to overthrow Qaddafi.

Two points.

First, there are two candidates in the race. One very legitimate question is “was the Libyan war a good idea?” Another very legitimate question, though, is, “would Mitt Romney do a better job than President Obama – or even an adequate job – running American foreign policy?”

Romney’s attack isn’t primarily an issue because of timing or decorum, as Daniel Larison points out, nor even because this was an instance not only of absurd mendacity but absurdly-easily-checked mendacity (though those are probably the reasons that so many Republicans groaned when he first made the attacks). It’s primarily relevant because it is of a piece with Romney’s bizarre foreign policy worldview, according to which the only important audience for our foreign policy statements is domestic.

I mean, think about what Romney’s criticism was. It wasn’t that Obama caused the attacks by his embassy issuing its statement condemning the stupid movie. That would be nuts, but whatever. His criticism was that in Obama’s Administration, every event is not used as an opportunity to assert its awesome Americanness, and throw that awesomeness in the teeth of the world. There is no theory of public relations or diplomacy according to which the wise thing to do when an angry mob approaches is to recite the text of the First Amendment. Because, according to the Romney frame of mind, what is wise or unwise is not the question we should be asking. Instead, we should be asking: what would make the folks at home feel proudly angry?

You know who plays the game that way? The martyr brigades play the game that way. If the American Embassy had issued a statement saying, “we will never back down from the principles of the First Amendment, not even in the face of death!” and then the Libyan ambassador had been killed, then we’d have a proper martyr on our hands, and we could all take to the streets and burn cartoons of Muhammad to express our outrage or something.

Mitt Romney has consistently talked this way, and this time he did it in the middle of an ongoing crisis. And what he said is ludicrous. The less damning tack to take is to say: well, it’s just appalling politics. It’s much more damning to take Romney seriously, and assume that he would, in fact, order his embassies never to cater to the sensitivities of the local population, but instead to issue grandstanding proclamations whenever an angry mob shows up.

Second point: he’s right. It’s not going to happen as part of the campaign, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

Personally, I thought at the time that Atlanticism had more to do with why we intervened in Libya than Responsibility to Protect or any other high-minded doctrine. I’d love to hear an Administration official go head to head with someone knowledgeable, articulate, civil and completely opposed – Andrew Bacevich, say – on this subject. Maybe TAC could sponsor a forum?

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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