In a Friday interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Mitt Romney once again demonstrated how craven he can be. There are two big foreign policy stories in recent days, and Romney had been unremittingly critical of President Obama on both, at least until called on them by Stephanopoulos.
The first had to do with the attacks on our embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi, with four Americans being killed, including the Ambassador to Libya. An embassy employee in Egypt, acting without clearance from either the State Department or White House, issued a statement criticizing an anti-Muslim film which appeared to be the cause of the rioting. The statement deplored the religious bigotry of the film, but did not state an unequivocal defense of the right to freedom of speech. It was this omission that caused both the State Department and the White House to disavow it. In Romney’s first comment on the crisis, he criticized the Obama Administration because, according to Romney, its first response was to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” He later described the Administration as “apologiz[ing] for American values.” Neither statement by Romney had a basis in reality, and he was widely criticized for them, including by leading Republicans.
When confronted by Stephanopoulos, Romney did not answer how the embassy employee’s statement showed “sympathy” for the rioters and then had the audacity to say, “I think we said about the same thing” as the White House!
The second issue concerns the ongoing effort by Israel’s Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, to goad the Obama White House into giving Netanyahu a blank check should he decide to launch a war with Iran. Netanyahu describes the necessity for a “red line” – or a defined moment which proves that Iran is on the verge of having a nuclear weapon – that would justify war should Iran cross the red line. Apparently not interested in debating the wisdom of another war in the Middle East, or, for that matter, having a foreign leader dictate America’s foreign policy, Romney has criticized Obama for “throwing Israel under the bus.” (Incidentally, Romney has yet to describe how Obama’s positions on Israel have differed from those of any American President, including both Bushes.)
When Stephanopoulos questioned Romney about his views on Iran, Romney twice said that his “red line” and the President’s “red line” were the same – that Iran should not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon.
This pattern of sharply criticizing the President, and then backpedaling furiously, is not a new one for Romney. When auto executives were seeking federal monies to save the industry just after Obama was elected, Romney wrote in an op ed in The New York Times, “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for … [their] demise will be virtually guaranteed.” When the federal bailout proved to be remarkably successful, Romney started taking credit for it, saying that Obama did what he had recommended.
What is next in the Romney assault on the reality-based world? While it is a long-time until the first debate on October 3 – plenty of time for a passel o’ lies to be uncorked – Romney made a remarkable statement in that Stephanopoulos interview. After twice saying that the President “tends to … say things that aren’t true’ – a remarkable statement from a candidate who has said he would not let his campaign be dictated by fact checkers – the Republican nominee went on to describe his dilemma: “Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate? Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about?”
Here is my prediction. Romney is going to let the supposed untruths go by unchecked – partly because he is not a good debater (see the primary debates), and partly because Obama is too careful to throw out “things that aren’t true.” Then, Romney will go on the stump and run ads in which he will characterize true statements by Obama as lies, without his being called upon them in front of a national audience. Because, the body of evidence is that when Romney is challenged, he flops at the earliest opportunity.
(The material in this post is based upon a transcript of the interview from ABC News.)