Mitt Romney’s solution to the crisis in Libya is identical to his solution for everything else: blame President Obama.
This morning, the president gave a press conference about the attacks in Libya that left US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three members of his staff dead. President Obama vowed to work with the Libyan government to bring justice to those responsible, and praised the law enforcement their for fighting back the mob and rushing the ambassador to a local hospital. The administration no longer believes that the attacks were a random act of violence in a response to an offensive film depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad , but a coordinated strike that used outrage over that film as a cover.
Obviously, the entire situation is a shock. While Libya is unstable, the US has been working closely with its citizens, and even lead a coalition to establish a no-fly zone to protect rebel forces from attacks by Gaddafi’s forces. And Stevens is the first US ambassador to be murdered abroad in thirty-two years. This tragedy opens up a new foreign policy challenge in dealing with Libya, as well as the probability of new, strengthened terrorist groups organizing to kill Americans abroad. It is a delicate situation, and one that should not be taken lightly – or made into an opportunity to attack a sitting President.
Too bad no one told Mitt Romney that.
Bungling Foreign Policy From The Sidelines
Romney took to the podium in a press conference of his own, lambasting the president with an unsettling air of smugness. He claimed that “The statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation,” referring to a statement posted online by the US Embassy in Cairo prior to the attacks. The embassy issued a statement that they would continue to ”reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others” – something that the conservative movement in the US cares deeply about when those religious beliefs are their own. But apparently, it is an unacceptable “apology for American values” when those universal rights are extended to Muslims.
The fact is that President Obama did not issue the statement – which in and of itself was less of an “attack on American values” and more of an eleventh hour plea to subdue the violence raging outside the embassy – and the president never so much as commented on it. That didn’t stop Romney – the presidential hopeful doubled down on his attacks on Obama’s imaginary “apology tour,” smiling after each question from the press afforded him another opportunity to bash the administration.
This outrageous behavior isn’t just a self-satisfied politicization of a tragedy that is nearly certain to hurt Romney’s campaign; it’s a window into the disaster that Romney/Ryan foreign policy would be. Romney has seemed eager to go to war with Iran in multiple speeches, a dangerous position to hold when the Israeli government is calling for an ally system from the US that is all too reminiscent of World War I. For Romney to be so brazen and unyielding when it comes to foreign policy is certain disaster; what country in the world is not going to be on edge with a man who will casually threaten Russia, Iran, and Libya in a matter of weeks? Clearly, Romney is operating under the assumption that foreign policy is just like pandering to the Republican base or talking up your company to the shareholders: do or say whatever you want, you’ll get your way with no repercussions.
Romney’s Outrageous Empathy Problem
It wasn’t just the content of Romney’s speech that was inaccurate bordering on dangerous, but his delivery. Romney’s smirking as he left the podium seemed inappropriately gleeful as he turned a tragedy into an election “gotcha.” Over at the Daily Kos, that very smirk has garnered lots of negative attention, with contributor Hunter writing, “It is not worth condemning him, or demanding apologies from him, or even making fun of him; that one damn smirk told too long a story. Here is someone whose ambition outshines their empathy.”
Romney’s empathy – or lack thereof – has been a problem through the entire campaign. Recently, the candidate made a gay Vietnam veteran bristle when Romney told him he did not support marriage equality. Two of the plaintiffs who led the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts described their meeting with the former governor as unpleasant and insensitive. Then-Governor Romney allegedly stated that he “didn’t know” that LGBT people had families, and that it wasn’t his concern what one of the plaintiffs told her 8-year-old daughter when she asked why her moms weren’t married.
The RNC brought on multiple personal friends and colleagues, and aired a poignant video to humanize the candidate. But whatever success those tactics brought has been short-lived. America has a foreign policy crisis abroad – and Romney has quickly turned that into an image problem at home.