Mitt Romney supporters, foreign hawks in particular, have good reason to be fretful. It is not because some polls show that if the Democratic turnout is equal to or better than 2008, President Obama would win certain key states. (As my kids would say, “Duh.”) It is not because events are conspiring against the Republican ticket. To the contrary, the economy is looking more dismal by the day, and the president has two scandals to contend with: the widening Fast and Furious debacle, and the coordinated attacks on our embassies and the ensuing lack of candor from the administration. It is, rather, that in the hands of Romney and his aides, the Republicans’ message becomes a muddle and they fumble opportunity after opportunity to put the White House on the defensive.
Libya is a case in point. Last night I received word from a senior Romney adviser in Boston that there would be a foreign policy speech after the first debate. Romney supporters hope it is better than what has preceded it, namely muffled platitudes and a refusal to point the finger at the administration for repeatedly misrepresenting the attack as a spontaneous, violent film review.
Romney’s Wall Street Journal column today only heightens that concern. It is yet another wasted opportunity and, to be candid, boring pabulum. It begins:
Disturbing developments are sweeping across the greater Middle East. In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, and the country’s peace treaty with Israel hangs in the balance. In Libya, our ambassador was murdered in a terrorist attack. U.S. embassies throughout the region have been stormed in violent protests. And in Iran, the ayatollahs continue to move full tilt toward nuclear-weapons capability, all the while promising to annihilate Israel.
These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere “bumps in the road.” They are major issues that put our security at risk.
How much more engaging and effective the op-ed would have been had it begun this way instead:
Under President George W. Bush after 9-11 there were no attacks on America and no deaths as a result of terrorist attacks on Americans. President Obama can’t say the same. Four Americans are dead in Libya. He call them “bumps in the road” and blames a movie. I call it outrageous.
He tells us America is more respected in the Middle East and Al Qaeda is finished. I see chaos, American weakness and a president who won’t be honest with voters because it might upset his re-election prospects.
Romney has got the platitudes down ( “we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East — that is, both governments and individuals who share our values. This means restoring our credibility with Iran.”) What is missing from the op-ed is a clear set of policy differences he has with the president and an indictment of the president’s ”engage the Muslim World” strategy that failed so horrifically. He writes, “We still have time to address these threats, but it will require a new strategy toward the Middle East.” Unfortunately he doesn’t make clear what that would look like. One fears that if asked in the debate to list five specific things he’d do differently, he would be stumped or resort to more generalities
If Romney wrote the Journal piece himself, someone should have the nerve to sit him down and say it is unhelpful and weak. If someone else wrote it, he should be benched.
A forceful set of policies would be simple to spell out. On Iran, make a military threat credible by obtaining authorization from Congress for use of force ( it hopefully would not be needed, but it would make an impression), develop a regional alliance with friendly Arab states, and make a joint statement with the Israeli government on “red lines.” Oh, and meet with world leaders at a critical time instead of going on “The View.” On the Middle East more generally, Romney can call for a review of foreign aid, move with allies to aid the Syrian rebels and make a forceful defense of free speech, debunking the idea that we should hush up robust, even insulting expression by American citizens. That would be a piece worth the ink and pixels.
No wonder there is a contingent within the Romney camp that doesn’t want to give a foreign policy speech, didn’t want to speak up after Romney was heckled by the mainstream media for speaking up in the wake of the Cairo embassy attack and is convinced Romney can only win the race “on the economy.” Sure. If you think “foreign policy” is a bland restatement of the obvious it really isn’t going to move votes. But if you recognize that we are in an urgent situation in which the president refuses to see the flames lapping around us and would rather engage in willful ignorance than endanger his foreign policy “record,” then the issue becomes one of leadership and credibility.
The pollsters will say foreign policy ranks low on voters’ list of concerns. Well, so does Fast and Furious. But if you talk to the American people, explain why these are gross lapses in judgment and executive leadership and instances in which the “most transparent administration in history” was not honest with the voters, it might turn a few heads.
If Romney is to give a foreign policy speech, he should make it count. Explain why the president’s policy has gone up in flames, so to speak, and why we can’t trust our security and the fate of the Free World to him. Set out the sorts of policies he would pursue. And yes, make the case that the White House did not level with us about the Libya attacks and no president who would be that dishonest or willfully ignorant should remain in office. Otherwise, it really isn’t worth doing.