Many years ago, in a state of frustration, a foreign ambassador said to me in exasperation: “The problem with the [Bush] administration is that they want a foreign policy without foreigners.” He explained: they have a foreign policy that sees the contours of international crises through the narrow lens of ignorance (and perhaps arrogance) about people of other cultures.
After watching the last few days unfold, I think it is now clear that this can be said of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
Romney showed us his true colors when responding to the tragic events in Libya and Egypt. Just as he failed to thank or mention the sacrifice of the veterans at the GOP convention in Tampa, in the last few days he has shown a startling lack of compassion. His first response to the tragedy in Libya was a political attack on President Obama, not an expression of regret and condolences to the families of those who died in the violence, including United States Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Just as he forgot to devote speech time to Afghanistan and Iraq in Tampa, since Tuesday he has revealed just how indifferent and uninformed he is on the political complexities of the Middle East—but it didn’t stop him from making impetuous comments before the facts were in. It is also possible that he knowingly misled the public about the sequence of events, to bolster his opportunity for his personal attack.
Credit must be given to the many Republican leaders who chastised Governor Romney for his inappropriate remarks. It is a heartening sign that some in the GOP are finally acknowledging publically that attacks on the president, in such a tragic setting, are going too far. Despite this, other key GOP figures defended candidate Romney’s claim that Obama does not defend American values and that the administration sympathized with those “who waged the attacks.” Former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared that Romney was right and that Obama projected American weakness. Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, doubled down by tweeting: “Obama sympathizes with the attackers in Egypt. Sad and Pathetic.”
What is truly sad, and perhaps equally pathetic, is that one of our major political parties cannot move past a stale formula for uniting its ranks. Just before the election in 2008, I wrote a piece for this blog called “The Demons in Our Midst: Political Fear Mongering and the Coming Election,” which focused on the personal smears directed at Obama—along with the power and commercial gain that comes from promoting fear. Read it and you will be struck by how little has changed in four years.
Romney’s irresponsible departure from the traditional expressions of national solidarity in a time of crisis has made America less safe. Divisive rhetoric, personal slams, and corrosive politics around sensitive security issues – not the denunciation of bigotry – are what really weaken America. It has also raised that prospect that we could soon have another administration with a foreign policy that doesn’t know or understand foreigners.