When President Obama was elected, not only were Americans feeling the initial effects of what became the Great Recession, but they also were reckoning with the cost and sacrifice from drawn-out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Especially with regard to Iraq, what could charitably be called deep public ambivalence was reflected in the Bush administrations disengagement strategy.
U.S. troops would come home by the end of 2011, the Bush White House declared as it settled on a timetable in negotiations with the Iraqi government.
Obama followed through on President Bushs troop withdrawal deal. Get that? He followed through on a deal worked out by his Republican predecessor. But now, he is targeted by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, for bailing out before Americans had completed the job of transforming Iraq into the Peaceable Kingdom.
The abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence, Romney says, is to blame for al-Qaidas ongoing mayhem, a weakened Baghdad regime and anti-democratic Irans rising influence over its neighbor.
So, is Romney suggesting he opposed the Bush-arranged pullout? Is he saying that Obama should have defied the Iraqi governments own wishes, and the preference of many Americans, by prolonging a mission that already had incurred appalling costs?
Second the motion
Let him own up to those views if he holds them. But more likely, this is another example of Romney cynically criticizing Obama as weak in foreign relations, when in fact his positions for the most part dovetail with Obamas own.
This campaign ploy was being put to determined use during Romneys international affairs speech Monday at Virginia Military Institute.
He slammed the president for not being aggressive enough to uphold American interests during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings against dictatorial Middle Eastern regimes. He used the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya as a symbol of how American passivity in the region is encouraging this countrys enemies.
Perhaps the attack in Benghazi represented an intelligence or security failure. But there has been no shortage of U.S. support for the Libyan government that took over for the deposed Moammar Ghadafi $200 million in aid, according to the Congressional Research Service. Tunisia has received $300 million since early 2011 and Egypt an annual total in the range of $1.5 billion, most of that for military assistance.
Yet Romney complains of no tangible support from Washington to these countries where democratic transitions have been under way. Does he propose express shipments from Fort Knox, or American boots on the ground? Not that anyone has heard.
The former Massachusetts governor conjures a favorite Republican stereotype involving Democrats as national security softies. But as to Syria, for instance, the Obama administration is funneling arms to rebels whom the Damascus regime is trying to crush. If Romney favors a more direct role U.S. intervention let him explain that in his next debate with Obama, which will have a foreign policy focus.
If theres a sharp example of how Romneys tough talk is really talking against himself, consider that on Monday he ripped the White House for a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11. Perhaps he simply forgot that last year, he declared that Americans shouldnt go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistans independence from the Taliban.
Romneys whole campaign has evolved into an exercise in distancing himself from past positions. If Obama wants to reverse his slide brought on by a lackluster performance in the first debate, he wont let his opponent get away with such doubletalk when they meet again.