President Obama has gotten by for 3 1/2 years touting his efforts to diminish the U.S. footprint in the world. Out of Iraq, even with no status of forces agreement. Out of Afghanistan, even if military commanders say a premature withdrawal imperils our gains. Avoid rattling the saber with Iran, even if Iran is emboldened and Israel is left feeling unsupported. Cut defense, even if Obama’s own secretary of defense says the cuts are “devastating.” Defer to the United Nations on Syria, even if Russia blocks action and the death toll mounts. Obama boasts that this is smart diplomacy and critics would lead us to war. But look where it has gotten us — two attacks, a several dead Americans and our ally Israel nervous as a cat.
Today, Obama finally coughed up a slightly more resilient response, saying “Justice will be done.” Aside from cliches, his comments were rambling, hardly a sign of resolve. It, frankly, underscored how weak is this president’s approach to national security. Even worse he echoed the condemnation of insulting religion, but gave no defense of free speech. And he took no questions. They might be impertinent.
No matter how hard he tries to rule out criticism as “partisan,” this is the nub of the election and his presidency: Has he failed to lead? Is he not responsible for the safety of Americans abroad?
Mitt Romney in his remarks, by contrast, sounded forceful and resolute, including this:
America will not tolerate attacks against our citizens and against our embassies. We will defend also our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion. We have confidence in our cause in America. We respect our Constitution. We stand for the principles our Constitution protects. We encourage other nations to understand and respect the principles of our Constitution because we recognize that these principles are the ultimate source of freedom for individuals around the world.
I also believe the Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States Government to condemn attacks on Americans, and to defend our values. The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn’t ‘cleared by Washington.’ That reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world.
The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed. In the face of this violence, America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead. American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don’t spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests. Over the last several years, we have stood witness to an Arab Spring that presents an opportunity for a more peaceful and prosperous region, but also poses the potential for peril, if the forces of extremism and violence are allowed to control the course of events.
We must strive to ensure that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab Winter.
If Romney wanted to sound more presidential than the president, he succeeded.
Recall Obama has done nothing in the past when it comes to attacks on diplomats. We took no action following the attack on the embassy in Georgia or the Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil. I asked Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies for his take in how we got to the point where jihadists attack us with impunity, and Israel is pressed to the mat on Iran. He told me, “These attacks remind me of the assault on the Iranian embassy in 1979. Back then, we watched helplessly as our alliance with Iran crumbled in the wake of an Islamic revolution that our leaders assured us would not get out of hand. Things took a turn for the worse when a group of radicals besieged our embassy and held our personnel hostage for 444 days. While no hostages were taken last night, one gets a sense that the ties with Egypt are about to get a lot worse.”
He observed that this was not a random mob but a planned assault, culminating with the “affront of tearing down our flag and replacing it with the al-Qaeda flag on the anniversary of 9/11.” He argued, “The inability or unwillingness of [Egyptian President Mohamed] Morsi’s government to protect our embassy is also of deep concern, not to mention today’s statement that falls far short of apologizing.”
Former deputy national security advisor Elliott Abrams is more pointed:
On the occasion of Mr. Obama’s forthcoming meeting with Morsi at the United Nations, this should be on top of the agenda — and the American complaint and Egyptian apology and pledge to do better should be exchanged, publicly, on camera. We give Egypt over a billion dollars a year in military aid. Members of Congress may wish to direct that aid, henceforth, to elements of the Egyptian police and military that are supposed to protect embassies. Or to suspend it until we learn how the Egyptian security services plan to protect our missions there.
Our new “relationship” with the Muslim Brotherhood government even with (or because of) our rash release of aid without conditions is unraveling. And in Libya, Schanzer noted, the attack there is “particularly confounding. We led the way in liberating that country from Moammar Gaddafi. This is apparent repayment.”
As for Israel, the White House insists it didn’t turn down a request for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel says it is lying, and a meeting was requested.
Such is the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship. The tussle over who requested what begs the question as to why the leaders aren’t meeting in New York. If the relationship is as close as Obama insists, there would be every reason to meet, make a show of solidarity and make a joint statement regarding Iran. So Netanyahu resorts to heckling Obama in public over “red lines.”
Schanzer said, “ The real problem here is the lack of transparency on the part of President Obama. When was the last time he delivered an official presidential statements on the Iranian nuclear crisis? He has not given the American people or the Israelis a glimpse of how he plans to tackle what has become the most pressing foreign policy issue of our time. This is what is driving Bibi to his wits end. “
So how is that leading from behind, timidity in the face of jihadists, meekness toward Iran and heavy defense cut policy working out? Are we more safe or are events spinning out of control? Are we most respected or less? The answer: Romney is being unfair pointing all this out.
Mitt Romney certainly will be asked what he’d do now. That is a legitimate line of inquiry and he should be prepared to say how he’d readjust our relationship with Egypt, for example. But the real answer is that another president wouldn’t have landed us in this spot. He’d have shown resolve in Afghanistan. He’d have acted with extreme caution and laid down some ground rules with the new Muslim Brotherhood government. He’d have made the military option against Iran more real, and given Israel assurances about acting if Iran did not give up its nuclear weaponization.
Today is significant because it is a dramatic demonstration of a failed approach to the world. Weakness invites attacks, disloyalty to allies encourages foes. And Obama has no right to insist he is beyond criticism. It would be interesting to start with some specifics: Did he attend his intelligence briefings this week, and what warning and/or instructions were issued to embassies?
As for the media trying to turn this into a Romney misstep, well sometimes they show off their bias and inanity a little too much. If they are going to insist that holding a president accountable for his national security is out of bounds, then perhaps journalism is now farce.