Recently, Mitt Romney has come under fire from the press for his statements made against President Obama’s handling of the crises currently sweeping the Middle East. Following protests ostensibly staged against a Youtube video negatively depicting Islam’s holiest figure, the Prophet Mohammed, protests erupted in Egypt and Libya. U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson released a statement essentially apologizing to Muslims. Later, following the deaths of four U.S. citizens, Romney criticized Patterson’s statement, incorrectly attributing it to President Obama. The press, left and right, is indignant over the kerfuffle.
The press has criticized Romney mainly for two things: ascribing Patterson’s views to Obama and politicizing war. But is such criticism really warranted?
The Democratic Party regularly takes statements made by radio show host Rush Limbaugh and makes them tantamount to official positions of the Republican Party. And when Todd Akin made his infamous “legitimate rape” comment, somehow every Republican in power held that same position.
So how is it that when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, an officially recognized branch of the federal government, makes a statement, Obama, the head of the federal government, is not responsible for the opinions of a woman he nominated? Presidents appoint ambassadors to foreign countries to be representatives and voices of U.S. interests and positions, i.e., the ambassadors speak for the president. Given this role, it’s not a stretch to assume they share viewpoints. Obama later distanced himself from the ambassador’s statement, but rather than flat out reject the idea that the U.S. should apologize for the actions of private citizens, he equivocated, stating that given the tenseness of the situation, his tendency is to cut them some slack rather than question their judgment.
But is that really an appropriate response? Shouldn’t the president of the United States demand clarity and responsibility above all things when turmoil and uncertainty reign, in order to ensure that the right course of action be taken?
Further, considerable time elapsed between President Obama’s official statement on the crisis and Ambassador Patterson’s response, and when the leader of a country doesn’t release a statement contradicting what his surrogate has said, isn’t it fairly logical to assume that his silence equates to agreement?
As for the substance of Mitt Romney’s statement, the criticism of Obama’s actions, how could this possibly be illegitimate?
In his statement to Egyptian President Morsi, Obama said that “he rejects efforts to denigrate Islam, but underscored that there is never any justification for violence against innocents and acts that endanger American personnel and facilities,” according to a press release from the White House.
Why include this qualifier? When U.S. citizens are dying and under attack, is the first responsibility of the president to assuage the ostensibly injured feelings of Islam? Not in Romney’s eyes. To him, the president’s first duty is to defend the freedoms of the people he represents. Romney essentially questions the priorities of the president. And isn’t that what elections are all about — electing a person whose views and values reflect your own?
Regarding the politicizing of war, how many times did candidate Obama bring up the death tolls in Afghanistan and Iraq during campaign speeches and debates to underscore his belief in Bush’s misguided foreign policy? How many times have we heard the mantra “No one died when Clinton lied” used as a critique of Bush’s foreign policy?
In American politics, one of the primary goals of the party not in power is to act as a watchdog, to hold a referendum on the other party’s actions. Obama did just this in 2008 when he criticized Bush’s foreign policy decisions. And although many may have disagreed with Obama’s assessment, no one seemed to dispute his right to say it.
So, why are we attacking Mitt Romney for doing the exact same thing? Might we disagree with Romney’s statement? Certainly. But should we attack him for having the courage to take a bold position and voice it? Absolutely not. If we delegitimize the power of anyone, especially our elected representatives, to be critical of their opponents’ actions, we delegitimize freedom of speech and, by extension, democracy. And no one should be more sensitive to this than the press, whose very existence hinges on the ability to hold politicians accountable.