The United States maintains several hundred embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world, many of them located in extremely dangerous places and vulnerable to attack. On September 11th of this year the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya was victimized by just such an attack. It started at 10:00pm local time in Benghazi (4:00pm in Washington D.C.) and left four Americans dead including the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Oddly, one of the first statements made about the attacks came that same evening (despite a pledge not to campaign on the anniversary of 9/11) from Mitt Romney. Romney was, needless to say, critical of President Obama’s response to the developing crisis, though the President himself would make no statement regarding Benghazi until the following morning.
On the surface, this may not seem like such a big deal. Politicians running for office will leap at any opportunity to criticize or embarrass their opponents. But there is something extraordinarily cynical about Romney’s effort to discredit the President. Romney’s hasty “foreign policy” remarks, formulated before anyone really knew what had happened, came from a man with virtually no foreign policy experience at all, unless spending time in France as a Mormon Missionary as a way of avoiding service in the Vietnam War, a war championed by Romney, counts as foreign-service. In Romney world such things are possible. In fact, Romney’s own campaign cited those draft-exempted years (the only religious exemption recognized by the U.S. government) and the fact that he traveled a lot on business as exactly that – talk about a thin resume! And if that was not bad enough, we heard even more about Romney’s foreign policy strategy in his now infamous, secretly recorded “47%” remarks.
On that tape we hear Romney discussing President Carter’s failed Iranian hostage mission, and how much political hay was made of that. Romney reassures his donors that “if something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.” In other words, I will exploit any opportunity to politicize any overseas event that might cast a shadow over President Obama’s considerable foreign policy success. Lacking any credentials or meaningful experience myself, I will hop up to the nearest microphone, at the earliest and even uninformed moment and demonstrate to the world my foreign policy chops. And that is exactly what Mitt Romney did shortly before midnight on September 11th.
In typical American political and media-frenzied style Romney has actually gained traction on the issue. How is it though that this singular, small, albeit tragic event has become the primary focus of our debates and discussion when the much broader, relevant and positive resolution of the Libyan Revolution is virtually ignored? Wasn’t it genuine foreign policy skill that enabled President Obama to work with NATO and regional powers on the sensitive matter of deposing an Arab dictator? Wasn’t it his maturity, deftness and experience that enabled America to contribute to the fight for Libyan freedom in a measured fashion with relatively little cost to our Treasury and no cost in American lives? Doesn’t all of that matter much more than a nuanced evaluation of the crisis response, and the words that were or were not spoken regarding the sneak attack in Benghazi? Or is it just too irresistible for us to play the “gotcha” game, indulge the picking of minor but irritating political scabs, and forget almost entirely and meaningfully about all that is truly important about our politics and our politicians.
In coping with the real-world crisis in Libya, President Obama was revealed for what his is – a steady and competent leader capable of recognizing and defending American interests while also doing the right thing (unless the continued control of Libya by the dictator Muammar Gaddafi is considered the “right” thing, and some on the Right who care not a whit about other people’s freedom might feel exactly that way). In jumping up to that mic and jumping ahead of the Benghazi incident, Mitt Romney was also revealed for what he is – an opportunist, desperate to be President, or as Woody Allen might put it, a haircut definitely posing as a man.