Egyptian protesters at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. (Khaled Elfiqi / European…)
So you want to call Mitt Romney a political opportunist because he criticized the Obama administration over its response to violent anti-American attacks in Egypt and Libya?
The Times' editorial board did just that Wednesday, saying Romney was "capitalizing on the attack to shore up his dubious campaign narrative that Obama is soft on radical Islam and apologetic about American values." The board called that “an outrageous exercise in opportunism."
Hey, not so fast, guys.
OK, sure, Romney may have violated some unwritten rule that candidates refrain from such immediate criticism during a crisis abroad. But this is the presidency of the United States we’re talking about. It's big-boy politics. The old rules don’t apply anymore.
Now, to be clear, I think Romney’s wrong in his views of President Obama’s foreign policy. But I’m glad he spoke up.
Why? Because we need to know what kind of president Romney would be, and his statement gives us some real-world insight.
Yes, the economy is issue No. 1 in this campaign. But foreign policy has a way of intruding into every presidency. Romney-the-businessman-president would also have to be Romney-the-diplomat-president.
In other words, it really does matter what kind of foreign policy Romney would pursue. For Exhibit A, see George W. Bush. As president, he managed to hit for the cycle: The nation was attacked on 9/11, and in responding, he simultaneously wrecked our military with two wars, wrecked our economy by cutting taxes while borrowing money to pay for those wars, and wrecked the balance of power in the Middle East by removing Iraq as a buffer against Iran.
And now Romney is saber-rattling about the Middle East too: Obama’s not tough enough with Iran, he says. Obama has abandoned Israel, he says. (For proof of how eager Israel is to have a President Romney, see the recent reports out of Jerusalem that Obama has snubbed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by turning down his request for a meeting at the U.N. this month.)
On Tuesday, amid the violence in Cairo and Benghazi, Romney couldn’t wait to hammer Obama again. On Wednesday, he didn't back down, saying that the events show that "American leadership is still sorely needed."
Fair enough. Romney talks tough.
Now, I used to think this kind of stuff was just campaign rhetoric, red meat for Republicans who see Democrats as too soft to protect American interests.
Then came Bush. And -- surprise -- he meant it. Thousands of lives and billions of dollars later, we’ve learned the cost of not listening to a Republican candidate who talks tough.
So, yes, I’m glad Romney’s letting us know now what kind of foreign policy he’d pursue as president. And I’m going to take him at his word that he’d get tough with Iran, that he’d stand by Israel to the end, even if that end meant another U.S.-led war in the Middle East.
And I’m going to remember that when I vote on Nov. 6.
Because now I have two teenage sons. And now I know for sure that when a Republican presidential candidate talks tough, it pays to listen -- and to get the body bags ready.
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