By Boris Volkhonsky
The recent tragic developments in the Middle East have quite expectedly given a new impetus to the campaign of President Barack Obama’s rival Mitt Romney.
Romney himself and his advisers launched an aggressive assault on Barack Obama’s “softness” claiming that things like these would not happen if America had a Republican president.
Romney went as far as blaming President Obama of “sympathizing with those who waged the attacks.” His remarks led to a widespread criticism both from his Democratic opponents as well as from the ranks of the Republican Party. “The problem with Mitt Romney continues to be Mitt Romney,” wrote a conservative pundit Matt Lewis. “I don’t feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favors in the past few hours,” said another conservative commentator Peggy Noonan.
Many critics have even concluded that Romney’s reaction to the events in the Middle East deals a death blow to the whole campaign of Mitt Romney. As John Cassidy pointed out in the New Yorker, even ” John McCain and Condoleezza Rice, arguably the GOP’s two most influential voices on foreign policy, have conspicuously failed to criticize Obama, while paying tribute to Ambassador Chris Stevens,” who was killed during an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
Still, many of Romney’s supporters, albeit in a more restrained manner, went off with more criticism of Obama.
“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” the Washington Post quotes Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser as saying. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”
“This is amateur hour,” added Williamson, a former assistant secretary of state and ambassador.
Now, it is probably time to separate the wheat from the chaff and try to see what impact Romney’s remarks on Obama’s foreign policy may have on the outcome of November 6 elections and on the future of the US and the world.
When Romney’s adviser spoke of Barack Obama’s amateurism, he was hundred percent right. Foreign policy has never been a strong side of Obama’s agenda – neither at the times of his first election, nor afterwards. The appointment of Hillary Clinton, whose previous foreign policy expertise had been by and large limited to dealing with her husband’s mistress of East European origin, as the head of State Department only highlights the treatment of foreign policy as a matter of minor importance.
Ever since, the present administration has been busy shoveling away (for the most part, unsuccessfully) the debris created by the previous administration. As the recent events have shown, these attempts not only have not resulted in improving America’s stance, but have given additional impulses for the anti-American sentiment around the globe. It should be noted that the US administration was among the most ardent supporters and sponsors of the “Arab spring” in the countries where now we witness the strongest anti-American backlash.
All this may really lead to a situation when foreign policy issues will matter in the presidential voting, as sometimes happens in the US politics. And the above reference to Jimmy Carter may be most worrying for Barack Obama who does not seem to be too happy about the parallels with the floppiest president in recent US history and sure would not like to be labeled “another one-term president”.
But when it comes to the only possible alternative, things seem to be even murkier. The choice of Mitt Romney would force the world to face the resurrection of the old neocon doctrine, and Romney seems to be determined to enforce it by all possible and impossible means.
But two things should be taken into account. First, it was the basically neocon policy by the previous administration which created the present mess Barack Obama so feebly tried to shovel away.
And second, today’s America, due to lots of internal and external reasons, is far from being in a position to play the role of the global gendarme. But the ambition is still there. What this gap between the ambition and the capabilities can lead to is better not to even be imagined.
In any case, the sporadic assaults at the US embassies will fade against the background of a big war – in the Middle East or wherever – Mitt Romney is definitely ready to launch.