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Yesterday, we wrote a post detailing the criticism that Mitt Romney has gotten for his aggressive response Tuesday night to the attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Libya and Egypt. The post generated a huge reaction, mostly from Romney supporters accusing me of shilling for President Barack Obama.
Still, the volume and intensity of the reader feedback means we should at least consider the other side, that this was the right move for Romney to make.
First, let’s consider the statement from the Romney campaign, sent Tuesday night, before it was reported that the U.S. Ambassador to Libya had died in the attacks:
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
It’s hard to deny Romney’s characterization of Obama’s response is categorically false. It refers to a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo prior to the attacks, which condemned “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” That statement referred to the anti-Islam film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which appears to have played some role in sparking the attacks in Egypt. Condemning offensive content is not the same thing as “sympathizing” with the mob attacking the Embassy.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that no similar statement was made by the Embassy in Libya, where the nature of the attacks appear to have been very different from those in Egypt.
In the short term, however, none of this really matters. Information is still forthcoming about the U.S. Embassy attacks in the Middle East, and it will probably be days, if not weeks or months, before we know what is really going on. The election is happening now.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Romney saw an opportunity to attack Obama for betraying American values overseas, and he took it. In doing so, he tapped into conservative fears that Obama doesn’t understand American Exceptionalism, has not articulated a foreign policy vision, and is overly sympathetic to radical Muslims. (It’s worth pointing out here that a recent Pew poll found that 17 per cent of registered voters still think Obama, who is Christian, is a Muslim, and 31 per cent say they don’t know his religion.)
But more than simply seizing the political advantage, Romney’s decision to ignore political custom and speak out when he thought the U.S. looked weak can also be seen as a show of strength and conviction — two qualities that have so far been absent from Romney’s foreign policy résumé.
In the short term, Romney is taking a lot of heat for speaking out prematurely and politicizing the conflict. Meanwhile, Obama is facing a crisis in the Middle East with eight weeks to go until the election.
The bottom line is that the Romney campaign has taken a gamble that this will be Obama’s “Carter moment.” And despite the initial media hype, it is still too early to tell whether the risk will backfire or pay off, or whether voters will even care at all.
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