Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cleanup Job For A Statesman

To say that there has been a tsunami of information this week about the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt would be the understatement of the year.

In an area of the world that's already volatile, these two events would have been bad enough on their own.

What made the situation worse was a series of events, including a crude anti-Muslim video, the rantings of insane right-wing Florida preacher Terry Jones, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaging in some saber-rattling towards Iran - and the opportunistic, incoherent, and desperate attempt by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his allies to turn this horrific event into a political opportunity.

In other words, a tsunami of diplomatic disaster.

At other times in the past - for example, four years ago this week when the economy began its massive self-immolation under the Bush Administration - wise presidential candidates have attempted a two-part strategy when faced with similar disasters.

At first, in front of the media, they release simple statements and may make some small comments of support, while attempting to leave politics mostly out of their public actions. Behind the scenes, those candidates work feverishly towards a solution to the crisis with those currently in power, even if they are from the opposing party.

Mitt Romney, however, decided to use a very different strategy. He decided he was going to attack President Obama as incompetent on foreign policy - even though Romney and his campaign didn't have all the facts on the situation in either Libya or Egypt.

The consensus opinion on the actions of Mr. Romney and his campaign by experienced politicians, political journalists, and foreign policy experts is that Mitt Romney and his advisors made a complete and total disaster out of what might have been a positive opportunity for them.

As journalist Ben Smith noted, comments like “bungle," "utter disaster," "not ready for prime time," "not presidential," and "Lehman moment” flowed freely from some of the most well-known foreign policy experts. And those were just the comments coming from Republicans.

Even Mark Salter, a longtime aide to Arizona Sen. John McCain, said that Romney's "rush to condemn Obama" was "as tortured in its reasoning as it is unseemly in its timing." In effect, the only high-profile Republicans standing with Mr. Romney at the end of the day were Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Reince Priebus, and Rush Limbaugh - not exactly the best the GOP has to offer.

The entire time Mitt Romney was washing out, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, the State Department, the U.S. military, and many others under the President's direction were calmly handling the situation.

The deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans seem to have been handled with great respect, along with the deaths of Libyans who attempted to help U.S. Foreign Service Staff in Benghazi. Apologies were taken from both the President of Egypt and the Deputy Prime Minister of Libya. Military resources were shifted into place, to remove and protect the remaining Americans in both Libya and Egypt.

In short, the Obama administration began cleaning up the situation like statesmen and stateswomen, while Mitt Romney and his team failed a critical leadership test.

Fifty-four days until the 2012 election...

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