Mitt Romney, throughout the primary season, was viewed as the stable (if unexciting) Republican candidate. Now, after his ill-considered and inaccurate remarks on the crisis in Libya, that judgment seems premature.
On September 11, a day that was supposed to be free of political campaigning, Romney simply could not restrain himself. That evening, upon learning that an American official had been killed in Libya, Romney lurched into attack mode, claiming that Obama had apologized for “hurting religious feelings” and had sympathized with and tried to appease Islamic extremists. Romney was reacting to a statement that had been issued by the American embassy in Cairo.
Romney went on to accuse the president of “sympathizing with those who waged the attacks.” In doing so, he demonstrated a craven willingness to score political points at any cost, even in the face of a serious foreign policy crisis. He also demonstrated an alarming lack of judgment, considering that the embassy statement he condemned was issued several hours before any violence occurred. He got the chronology wrong, but charged ahead anyway.
This is the antithesis of presidential leadership. In times of crisis, it’s the president’s job to get the facts straight, rally the American people and articulate our shared values to chart a path forward, based on real-world considerations. Instead, Romney misread the facts, lied about the president’s motivation and actions, and attempted to score cheap partisan points with his base.
Sadly, Romney’s unstable performance in the face of this overseas crisis was only the latest in a long string of amateurish, misguided or bungled foreign policy pronouncements:
• He says our #1 geopolitical foe is Russia. Not Islamic terrorists, but Russia. He might as well have said “Soviet Union”—the world has changed a great deal since the Cold War ended, but Romney’s international outlook has not kept pace.
• A senior Romney advisor was quoted as saying “real Americans” don’t care about foreign policy.
• In his convention acceptance speech, Romney forgot to note we have troops serving in Afghanistan.
• When touring overseas as a presidential candidate, Romney’s most striking headlines were garnered by insulting the British, in claiming they weren’t ready to host the Olympics.
Romney’s erroneous remarks have been roundly and deservedly condemned. Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Daily Beast, says this episode shows Romney and his advisors are “unfit for government”. Joan Walsh, in Salon, wrote this: “Mitt Romney, flushed and shifty-eyed, stepped to a podium Wednesday morning with a chance to disavow the despicable late-night attack his campaign launched on President Obama. Instead he intensified it, and that’s why he’ll never be president.”
On Wednesday morning, instead of reconsidering, Romney renewed his attack on Obama, as Ms. Walsh notes above. “The statement that came from the administration was a statement akin to an apology,” he said.
In Britain, where the successful Summer Olympics recently concluded, the Guardian wrote: “Many senior Republicans greeted the renewed attack with horror, briefing reporters that Romney had made a catastrophic error of judgment that could have fatal consequences for his election campaign.”
When President Obama finally took time to respond to Romney’s misguided attacks, he said “You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”
“I think most Americans, Democrats or Republicans, understand that there are times when we set politics aside, and one of those is when we’ve got a direct threat to American personnel overseas,” Obama said.
That is leadership. President Obama has it. Mitt Romney falls disastrously short.