Columnist Karen Rubin: Romney’s irresponsible opportunism

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As America marked the11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Islamic militants in Egypt and Libya, presumably inflamed over the release of a film defaming Mohammed, attacked U.S. consulates, and in Libya, killed four people including the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

What is more, anti-American protests have now spread to about a dozen countries including Indonesia and Malaysia.

But even before it was known that four Americans were murdered in Libya, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney immediately sought to blame the unrest on an Obama Doctrine that respects the values and process of other countries, rather than dictates to them, implying that Obama’s policy enabled the attacks.

Rather than show a united front which is traditional during a foreign crisis, Romney immediately sought to capitalize on the tragedy in Libya, painting Obama (the guy who killed Osama bin Laden and removed much of the Al Qaeda leadership) as weak and a Muslim sympathizer. Romney callously and irresponsibly issued statements that a statement that was released by the Cairo Embassy before the protests, intended to show America’s respect for all religions and faiths and calm a reaction, was the same as if Obama issued a statement showing more concern for the rioters than for the principle of free speech. 

“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,” he said Tuesday night.

The premise was untrue, but that did not stop Romney even after learning the true timeline.

On Wednesday, Romney stated, “America will not tolerate attacks on U.S. We will defend our Constitutional rights to speech, assembly, religion.” 

But what does that actually mean? Would a President Romney be prepared to do after a mob attacks the U.S. Embassy? Would he launch air attacks? A ground war? Cut off aid? Wouldn’t that just push Egypt closer to Russia and China and remove U.S. ability to influence Egypt policy to Israel altogether? What, exactly, would Romney have done differently?

And in a Wednesday morning press conference Romney said, “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.”

That was of course a misrepresentation of the comments and events. The statement that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, issued before the attack, intended to stem the violence once the film was promoted in order to incite reaction, referred to “continued efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims, as we condemn efforts to offend all believers of all religions.”

After the attack, when it became known that four U.S. diplomats were killed, what President Obama actually said was, “I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens…

“I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”

He also said, “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation, but let me be clear: there is no justification for this. None. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith. And as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”

Speaking at the White House Rose Garden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by his side, he said “Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”

Clinton said, “This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya.

“This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world,” said Clinton. “We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence and we send our prayers to the families, friends and colleagues of those we’ve lost.”

 “A free and stable Libya is still in America’s interest and security, and we will not turn our back on that,” Clinton stated, with an eye to preserving important relationships in the Middle East.

Irresponsible Remarks

On the other hand, Romney’s remarks were shamelessly irresponsible, even as they were inaccurate, and in this and in other reactions to foreign affairs, only exacerbated the situation.

But in this, Romney, who is being lambasted for his foreign policy missteps so far, is apparently hoping take political advantage of the tragedy. The strategy seems to be an attempt to repeat Reagan’s success against Jimmy Carter by using the Iranian hostage crisis to depict Carter as weak. Up until then, Carter was leading in the polls. What was later clear is that Reagan’s political operatives made their own deal with the hostage takers to keep the hostages until after the election. It was no coincidence that the hostages were freed as Reagan was being inaugurated, and probably no coincidence of what later became Iran-Contra, where the Reagan Administration illegally sold arms to Iran in order to fund the guerrilla war in Central America.

It is no coincidence that at the RNC there was a theme to equivocate Romney with Reagan and Obama with Carter.

I wouldn’t put it past the Romney campaign to be as ruthless as Reagan’s campaign “means justify the ends” strategists, and back or at least support the release the anti-Muslim film that prompted the mob violence – after all, there were similar violent protests which resulted in deaths after Terry Jones burned a Koran (delighted with himself, he made a run for president).

Now it is emerging that the film was largely ignored until Terry Jones began promoting it.

The film, which depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman, that so incited the attacks in Egypt and Libya was initially claimed to be made by Sam Bacile, who represented himself as a Jewish-Israeli American real estate investor, and that he had raised the $5 million cost from 100 Jewish donors.

It is now being reported that “Sam Bacile” is a pseudonym of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Californian Coptic Christian of Egyptian descent who has been convicted of financial crimes. Reportedly, he raised $60,000 to make the 14-minute film, which was misrepresented to the actors (they claim) – not $5 million from 100 Jewish donors as he initially claimed.

Instead of condemning the film’s message or the irresponsibility of the filmmakers to incite violence – just as the Danish cartoons and the burning of Korans have done previously – Romney hurled condemnation on the Obama Administration. 

This kind of rhetoric, ignorance, irresponsibility on the world stage disqualifies Romney to be president.

He would be Bush/Cheney, content to ignore or be ignorant of facts in order to achieve a political end. Bush, guided by the cabal of the Project for the American Century, unleashed the pre-emptive war on Iraq because that was in the plan to begin with, and because, as Bush candidly admitted before taking office, being a war president would give him the power to achieve his domestic agenda. Done and done.

This is not idle speculation. Romney has surrounded himself with the very same Bush foreign policy figures – 17 of 24 of them, in fact – including John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations, who despised the United Nations and seeks an American Empire.

“Any foreign policy advisory board that seeks the counsel of Cofer Black, Michael Hayden, Dan Senor or John Lehman, to name just a select few, is a real cause for concern,” Laura Hughes wrote on peliticmic.com. “Of that crowd, Black is the most worrying. Black is about as ‘dark side’ as you get, an American exceptionalist in the worst sense of the word, and perhaps the most vocal advocate for extraordinary renditions and so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’… with Black whispering in his ear, Romney’s counterterrorism policy would be a frightening true return to those heady, Bush-era days of CIA black sites and waterboarding sessions.

“Michael Hayden you will remember was at the helm of the National Security Agency during the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping and Dan Senor, was the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority and managed to paint one of the rosiest pictures of a post-Saddam Iraq that in reality was rapidly descending into chaos (thanks, in large part, to the incompetence of the CPA itself).” The New York Times also noted that Dan Senor was telling one thing to the press “off-the-record” about the unfolding disaster in Iraq, but quite another “on-the-record.”

Romney in his acceptance speech at the RNC called Russia “our number one geopolitical foe,” accused Obama of letting down our ally Poland by shelving Bush-era plans for comprehensive missile defense installations in eastern Europe, while insisting a Romney administration would show Putin “less flexibility and more backbone.”

Such statements are already having consequences. 

After that remark, Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed back saying he’s grateful to the Republican contender for making it clear that Moscow would be unwise to trust any future verbal commitments made by any U.S. leader, and that this justifies his opposition to America’s plans for missile defense in Europe, regardless of whether Obama wins reelection.

Without even winning the presidency, Romney has managed to endanger American foreign policy and America’s national security.

Romney’s statements on Iran are equally irresponsible and provocative, and what is even more unsettling is that Romney appears to be letting Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu dictate how the U.S. will respond to Iran.

The matter of Israel policy is significant to our community, but the way Romney/Ryan have cast it – as throwing Israel under the bus – is simply wrong and irresponsible. 

Indeed, Netanyahu has a close personal relationship with Romney – they worked together years ago, and it is dangerous and unseemly for the leader of Israel to insert himself into the US election.

Romney/Ryan are being guided by opportunism (which is disgusting), and ignorance. They have that black/white view of the world, and seem to be stuck in the 1950s image of America when the United States was the only economy left standing after World War II.

There has never been a presidential-vice presidential ticket with such little foreign policy experience. Romney’s campaign says his foreign policy experience comes because he is a “65-year old sophisticated business man” who is well traveled and because of his experience leading the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. 

Paul Ryan cites as his foreign policy experience his votes to wage war and war spending: “I’ve voted to send men and women to war,” Ryan said, pitting his 14 years in Congress against Obama’s four years in the Senate. “I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve met with our troops to get their perspectives. I’ve been to the funerals, I’ve talked to the widows, I’ve talked to the wives, the moms and the dads. That’s something. That matters.”

They make a show to suggest that they have as much foreign policy experience as Obama did coming into the presidency (but certainly cannot claim to have the experience of a sitting President and Commander-in-Chief).

But, as Jason Easley writes at politicsusa.com, “When Barack Obama was in the Senate, he served on the Foreign Relations, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, and as s chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs. 

During roughly the same period in the House, Paul Ryan served on the House Committee on Budget, House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security, Joint Economic Committee, and the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. Paul Ryan did not serve on a single foreign policy committee or subcommittee while Obama was in the Senate.”

Obama Lays Out Foreign Policy Position

President Obama, in his acceptance speech, drew the contrasts in his foreign policy and raised the question of the foreign policy experience of the Romney/Ryan team. And without saying so – but his record demonstrates – he has a better handle on the nuance, the complexity and the reality of foreign affairs that Romney/Ryan don’t grasp. 

“Around the world, we’ve strengthened old alliances and forged new coalitions to stop the spread of nuclear weapons,” Obama said at the RNC. “We’ve reasserted our power across the Pacific and stood up to China on behalf of our workers. From Burma to Libya to South Sudan, we have advanced the rights and dignity of all human beings – men and women; Christians and Muslims and Jews. 

“But for all the progress we’ve made, challenges remain. Terrorist plots must be disrupted. Europe’s crisis must be contained. Our commitment to Israel’s security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace. The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions.

“The historic change sweeping across the Arab World must be defined not by the iron fist of a dictator or the hate of extremists, but by the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people who are reaching for the same rights that we celebrate today.

“So now we face a choice,” Obama said. “My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.

“After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy – and not al Qaeda – unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.

“My opponent said it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. I have, and I will. And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work – rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways. After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.”

Sen. John Kerry (Massachusetts), attacked Romney on foreign policy in his address to the DNC:

“In this campaign, we have a fundamental choice. Will we protect our country and our allies, advance our interests and ideals, do battle where we must and make peace where we can? Or will we entrust our place in the world to someone who just hasn’t learned the lessons of the last decade?

“But I say to you: This is not the time to outsource the job of commander in chief… 

“So on one side of this campaign, we have a president who has made America lead like America again. What is there on the other side? An extreme and expedient candidate, who lacks the judgment and vision so vital in the Oval Office. The most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.”

And this was before the Romney/Ryan reaction to the Middle East crisis.

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