President Obama is now more vulnerable than ever when it comes to foreign policy. If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan play their cards right, there is a comprehensive case to be made against the Obama team’s serial debacles on foreign policy.
First, as I pointed out, the Obama team is running from its own cover story that the Middle East embassy attacks were spontaneous. Conservative foreign policy gurus are attacking with fervor. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who has advised the Romney campaign, told me this morning, “Reality is breaking through. Worse, though, than the initial ‘spontaneity’ theory is the State Department position that there will be no further comment because of the ongoing FBI investigation. This shows that the Administration is still gripped by the notion that terrorism is a law-enforcement matter rather than an ongoing war.” He warned, “Such a fundamental misunderstanding of the terrorist threat can only lead to utterly ineffective U.S. policies.”
Likewise, Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mails me that the State Department spokeswoman’s language suggesting that, well, there might be other causes for the embassy attacks “still demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding.” He argues, “The attacks of 9/11/01 were one battle in a war that began years earlier and continues to this day. One should anticipate that those who are waging this war against us, those who call themselves our enemies, will view 9/11 anniversaries as opportunities for attacks — and will use any pretext to recruit and incite. In a digital age such pretexts are always at hand.” Look for Romney to echo these points.
Next, we have further evidence of the complete farce that is Russian “reset.” The Post features an op-ed by David Kramer of Freedom House concerning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to boot USAID democracy workers out of the country:
Since Vladimir Putin’s formal return to the Russian presidency in May, there has been an across-the-board crackdown on civil society and the opposition. Beyond the show trial of members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot, authorities have raided the homes of government critics and their family members, conducted criminal investigations and prosecutions of opposition figures and their spouses, and used brutal force against protesters.
Meanwhile, aside from spokesmen’s statements of concern, President Obama and most of his European colleagues have said next to nothing.
What does Obama do? The Obama administration, Kramer writes, said that “it will comply with Putin’s request — detailed in a diplomatic note last week — that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) end operations in Russia effective Oct. 1. The administration is trying to put the best spin on this, but it simply isn’t credible. Instead of pushing back and forcing Putin to publicly kick out USAID — a scenario from which he might have backed down — the Obama administration has capitulated peremptorily, without even an expression of regret, betraying and demoralizing Russian civil society and setting a dangerous precedent.”
Former deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams concurs in an e-mail to Right Turn: “The Administration’s ‘reset’ policy earned it nothing but disrespect from Putin and [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov, who saw it as a sign of American weakness. Putin has reversed the gains made toward democracy in Russia, and the courageous Russians resisting him have little American help.” He recommends the administration stop opposing the Magnitsky human rights bill “and enlarge the programs aimed at assisting Russian democrats. [Putin] is vulnerable and resistance to his Soviet-era tactics and vast corruption is growing.” That policy won’t be happening under an Obama administration that promised more “flexibility” in a second term.
And finally, Obama’s shortcomings with regard to Israel are more apparent than ever. He has time to meet with the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, and to go on David Letterman’s show but not to meet with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in New York City. Oh, they spoke by phone? The point here is, yes, the symbolism and the appearance of solidarity communicates something (the lack of such solidarity communicates something as well) to the Iranians.
Romney got knocked in some quarters for his statements at the recorded fundraiser when he said the current Palestinian leaders have no interest in establishing peace with Israel and the best we can do is to “recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem ...and you hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.” Well, finally a real, realist! Is there any doubt what he says is true? That and his remarks cautioning about the security risks to Israel in turning over the West Bank should put to rest any notion that he doesn’t understand the lay of the land, so to speak. Candor about the Israeli-Palestinian situation and focus on the utter lack of leadership from the Palestinian Authority — which has chosen to walk out of negotiations, go to the United Nations for a unilateral declaration of statehood and team up with Hamas — stand in sharp contrast to the actions of Obama, who seems to think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about Israeli’s settlements.
In all these areas — the embassy attacks, Russian reset and Israel — Obama is inhabiting a fantasyland, failing to grasp the key motivations of the countries involved and to understand how to wield U.S. influence. Romney should not miss a chance to attack on all counts.
UPDATE (2:48 p.m.): Buzzfeed reports that White House press secretary Jay Carney was at a loss Wednesday to explain his current version of the embassy attacks, positing that attackers just grabbed heavy weapons on the go in the maybe-not-exactly-spontaneous attacks.
Meanwhile, other officials with greater concern for their personal credibility are becoming more outspoken. Reuters reports:
“They were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in response to a question at a Senate hearing.
Olsen said whether the attack was planned for September 11 was under investigation, but the information so far indicated it was “an opportunistic attack” that “began and evolved, and escalated over several hours.”
There were well-armed militants in the area, he said. “What we don’t have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advance planning or coordination for this attack.” . . .
At the same hearing, Republican Senator Susan Collins said she agreed with Libyan officials that the attack was premeditated, planned and associated with the September 11 anniversary. She expressed concern about the security at the consulate, where no Marines were present and security was handled by foreign nationals.
Olsen later stated that there are “indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda affiliates, particularly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”
Perhaps the White House should not, for a full week, have shot first and aimed for the truth later. At this point the administration should confess it didn’t have evidence to support what it was saying and is now looking into whether the 9-11 attack was planned, you know, to commemorate 9-11-01.