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The Point of the Romney Bashing

Two more things on Rod Dreher’s post [1]. 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 [2], 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.

change_me

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 [3] 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?

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "The Point of the Romney Bashing"

#1 Comment By icarusr On September 13, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

“Atlanticism had more to do with why we intervened in Libya than Responsibility to Protect or any other high-minded doctrine.”

They may not be mutually exclusive. Northern Europeans do play an active role in NATO discussions, and they have strong and principled interest in R2P. In respect of Libya, it’s useful to remember that Germany was firmly opposed to intervention. If the issue were only Atlanticism, that alone might have argued against involvement and intervention. I think R2P played out in the end, probably with strong Norwegian and Danish backing, when the troops massed outside Benghazi to go in for the final kill. That is, Italy, France and the UK could not, in my view, pushed the US into action on their own; it would have taken additional internal pressure by the Nordics and the sheer violence expected in Benghazi to force action in DC.

#2 Comment By cw On September 13, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

There was never a time to talk about Romney as any kind of serious potential leader. He has always been a poseur as far as politics are concerned. Just like with Ryan/Palin, if you try to understand his actions and words as if they were the product of someone who was a serious about the actual doing of the job rather than just aquiring the title, then you are going to hurt your brain.

#3 Comment By M_Young On September 14, 2012 @ 1:11 am

” 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. ”

No, but there is a theory that attempting to appease the mob will only encourage it. There was absolutely no reason for Obama to even mention the film or mocking religions — he had two attacked embassies and a dead ambassador (and 3 other Americans). His sole concern and sole subject of his statement should have been meting punishment on the participants in those events.

#4 Comment By Roberto On September 14, 2012 @ 7:13 am

Well said, Noah. I call what you are describing the “Middle Finger Theory of Global Diplomacy,” as in being an American means that you can disfavored foreigners the middle finger and not suffer adverse consequences for it.

The criticism of the embassy in Cairo amounts to “Americans made a crude film that purposely set out to outrage Muslims and, because they are Americans, we must stand in solidarity with them. Anything less is appeasement.”

If we were willing to mind our own business, TAC-style, then we might have the luxury of being indifferent to Islamic sensibilities. Not offensive, mind you, but not overly concerned, either. But the need to show the flag, well, everywhere, and the unacknowledged limits to our power, means that we can’t afford such indifference.

#5 Comment By Adam Nedsoulis On September 14, 2012 @ 7:30 am

“…Romney’s bizarre foreign policy worldview, according to which the only important audience for our foreign policy statements is domestic.”

Nonsense! In Romney’s view—or, at least, the view of the neocons programming him—the only important audience is the Israeli Government.

#6 Comment By Charlieford On September 14, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

Great post.