Perceptions: The Romney/Obama Clash on Foreign Policy

The clash between Mitt Romney and the Obama administration over the assaults on our embassies in Egypt and Libya and the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others has provided a stark contrast between two fundamentally different views of American governance.

Romney’s criticism of the Obama administration’s initial response to the assaults on the U.S. Embassies in Cairo and Benghazi has drawn fire from both friend and foe alike:

“The foolishness of Romney’s reaction is glaring. Pretending that the statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo was anything other than a completely understandable and reasonable attempt by its occupants to save their own lives borders on disgraceful. Romney’s implication that the statement was issued at the height of the attacks is also false; it was actually released earlier in the day, a preventive measure aimed at keeping the protests from turning violent” (Mitt’s Shameful Libya Statement, Salon.com).

“I don’t feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favors, say in the past few hours, perhaps since last night,” (Peggy) Noonan told Fox News. “Sometimes when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go…I was thinking as he spoke, I think I belong to the old school of thinking that in times of great drama and heightened crisis, and in times when something violent has happened to your people, I always think discretion is the better way to go,” Noonan said. “When you step forward in the midst of a political environment and start giving statements on something dramatic and violent that has happened, you’re always leaving yourself open to accusations that you are trying to exploit things politically” (Noonan: Romney not Helping Himself, Politico.com).

First, a timeline: With protestors evidently gathering outside, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued the following statement on Tuesday morning:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Then, throughout the day, the embassy stood by its original statement with a series of tweets, even after their security had been breached and the embassy stormed:

@USEmbassyCairo “This morning’s condemnation (issued before protest began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy” 11 Sep 12

On Tuesday evening Romney released the following statement:

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Which is precisely what Administration officials in Cairo did throughout the day on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday evening (10:10 p.m.), the Obama administration disavowed the statements of its Cairo Embassy:

“The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.”

After the Obama administration’s disavowal of its Embassy’s statement, the tweets were all deleted.

On Wednesday, Romney defended his statement of the previous evening:

“The embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached, protesters were inside the grounds. They reiterated that statement after the breach. I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. That instead, when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. An apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

I agree. But Romney’s response to the attack on America gives me hope that maybe in Romney we have a leader who takes American national security seriously. Consider the following:

“Islamist militants armed with antiaircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a lightly defended United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, late Tuesday, killing the American ambassador and three members of his staff and raising questions about the radicalization of countries swept up in the Arab Spring.”
American and European officials said that while many details about the attack remained unclear, the assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed, and they appeared to have at least some level of advance planning. But the officials cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether the attack was related to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks” (Libya Attack Brings Challenges for U.S., New York Times, 9/12/12).

How could it be that on a day so portentous as September 11 that our embassy in Benghazi could be “lightly defended”? What does this say about the Obama Administration? How could it be that the attackers “seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed, and they appeared to have at least some level of advance planning” and yet the Obama Administration was caught flat-footed on September 11, 2012? The New York Times article continues:

“But a Libyan politician who had breakfast with Mr. Stevens at the mission the morning before he was killed described security, mainly four video cameras and as few as four Libyan guards, as sorely inadequate for an American ambassador in such a tumultuous environment” (Ibid)

This, I fear, is the state of American security at home and abroad under the current administration.

Maybe the lack of seriousness with regard to security at our embassies in Cairo and Benghazi has something to do with the fact that President Obama displays only a half interest in daily intelligence briefings. An analysis of the President’s first 1,225 days in office from January 23, 2009 through May 31, 2012 reveals that the President was in attendance at less than half of the Presidential Daily Briefs. An article in the Washington Post cites this study and adds that President George W. Bush “almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting.” It might not be a stretch to suggest that President Obama attends more fundraisers than intelligence briefings. In fact, after the President delivered his Wednesday morning Rose Garden comments on the American deaths in Libya, he was off to Las Vegas for a scheduled fundraiser.

The criticisms of Romney are

1. That he reacted too quickly. But when you are a Republican/conservative politician, you’re going to be criticized no matter what you do. Remember the vilifying George Bush took from the Left because he showed restraint for seven minutes after learning of the attack on the World Trade Center? Romney’s reaction was timely, firm, and highly appropriate.

2. The Salon.com piece charges Romney with being “fundamentally dishonest.” They point to two PolitiFact posts, one which parses the word “apology” and another the term “apology tour” to argue that some “experts” don’t agree with Romney’s use of these terms because neither Obama nor administration officials ever actually said the words “I’m sorry.” Therefore, they conclude, Romney is a liar for characterizing the Embassy’s statements as an “apology.” But would these same people argue that a crime is not a hate crime unless the perpetrator says “I hate you” while committing it? I don’t think so.

To deny that Obama has not been apologizing for his country because he didn’t actually say the words “I’m sorry” is absurd. I am reminded of the oft recalled lawyerly parsing of former President Bill Clinton who, in his deposition in the investigation that led to his impeachment, proffered “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” As to whether or not the Obama Administration has a track record of apologizing for America, the liberals are modeling their debate tactics after those of Slick Willie, arguing that it depends on what the meaning of “apologize” is.

Romney did not lie, nor was he precipitous in his reaction to the assault on American sovereignty. He showed himself to be a principled leader with the courage to defend America. But more importantly, Romney’s response showed the nation and the world that we are in great peril with a weak, disengaged, and equivocating president in the White House, and that we have, for the first time in a very long time, a real choice in November.

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About John C. Greene

I am a 70 year old businessman in Connecticut and author of "Walking in Darkness at Noonday." I have been a convert member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for half my life. While a member of a rock band in LA in the mid-1970s I became fascinated with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's story of solitary bravery, his exile from his homeland, and his book "Gulag Archipelago." The book had a profound impact on me as it made me realize that there is a vast difference between the land Solzhenitsyn was born to and the land where I was so fortunate to have been born. That was the beginning of my interest in liberty, correct principles of government, and the peculiarly LDS doctrine we call the agency of man.
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