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ROBINSON: No Gipper here

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Once upon a time there was a silver-tongued president. His foreign policy must have been seen by enemies of the United States as weak and feckless, because these enemies became emboldened. Mideast terrorists staged a brutal, bloody attack in which innocent Americans were killed. The president's response could be seen as a display of shameful weakness rather than steely resolve.

I'm referring, of course, to Ronald Reagan and the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, which claimed 241 American lives -- and led Reagan to withdraw U.S. forces from Lebanon.

It's useful to keep this antecedent in mind as opportunistic critics embarrass themselves looking for ways to bash President Obama over the spreading anti-U.S. violence in Egypt, Libya and now Yemen.

I mean Mitt Romney. Really. U.S. diplomatic posts are attacked abroad, and your first reaction is to issue a statement blasting the president? J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, and three other officials are killed in a commando-style assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, and your instinct is to seek not safety for other Americans at risk, not justice for the coldblooded killers, but political advantage for yourself?

Romney's rushed statement Tuesday night calling the Obama administration's response to the violence "disgraceful" was a new low in a campaign already scraping bottom. And Romney's subsequent decision to double down on the attack, even as Americans mourned the first killing of an ambassador since 1979 and officials began investigating what now looks like a well-planned terrorist attack ... well, I guess this whole performance says a lot about what kind of man Romney is.

The most charitable explanation is that he's in a panic over polls that show Obama opening a lead. If this is not the case, then Romney's ignorance of foreign policy is more profound -- and potentially dangerous -- than anyone could have suspected.

It's one thing to pander on domestic issues. When Romney takes every conceivable position on health care reform, when he promises tax cuts for all and sacrifice for none, when he conjures millions of jobs out of thin air -- such reckless promises are written off as campaign rhetoric, nothing more.

But international affairs are different. For one thing, there is general consensus that at times of crisis, the United States must speak with one voice. Most Republicans, even some of Obama's most adamant foes, respected this tradition. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, both issued measured statements recognizing that this is a moment for patriotism, not politics.

More important is the fact that words spoken in the heat of international crisis can have life-or-death impact. Romney's ostensible complaint was that Obama should have spoken up more clearly for American values -- presumably, in this case, freedom of speech.

Indeed, the administration has made clear that it supports the right of anti-Muslim extremists to make and disseminate an amateurish video whose sole purpose is to insult and enrage believers in Islam. This is protected speech under the Constitution. But imagine the reaction if Obama's first response had been not to try to quell the violence but to align the U.S. government with a piece of inflammatory garbage produced by twisted zealots. Religious tolerance is an American value, too.

Romney's tin ear was mildly amusing when he crashed and clattered his way through a foreign trip earlier this year. As Obama joked in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, it's pretty bad "if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."

But Romney's tougher-than-thou bluster about the Middle East is no laughing matter, especially his attempt to appear to be more supportive of Israel than Obama is. Since Obama has been as supportive of Israel as any U.S. president, Romney has contorted himself into dangerous positions -- practically threatening an attack on Iran's nuclear program and saying he "can't imagine" any circumstance in which he would be unable to meet with an Israeli prime minister.

Romney's belief, apparently, is that such language sounds tough -- that the harder he thumps his chest, the stronger he seems. You have to wonder if he could ever summon the prudence and wisdom to pull back, as Reagan did, when circumstances indicate. You have to wonder if he realizes that his shoot-from-the-lip attacks, far from projecting strength, sound frantic and weak.

You have to wonder if he knows there are moments when the guiding principle has to be "America first." Not "me first."

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

Say_that_again 2 years, 1 month ago

It is good that someone still remembers history. Republicans always want to rewrite the events of the Reagan administration. However, the issue should be that Romney demonstrated that he lacked any knowledge of diplomacy. Romney's strange and inappropriate response should be likened to the way George W. Bush demonstrated a lack of understanding of possible repercussions and increased hostility by labeling an "Axis of evil". This might have resonated well with Americans but it strained relations with any country with diplomatic relations with any of the three countries cited. With the internet's ability to spread news around the world, it is important for any politician, especially a presidential candidate, to consider world effects before reacting. We still don't have all the information but we do know that the attack was not the demonstrators out of control but a small, well armed group that had obviously planned the assault.

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notblind 2 years, 1 month ago

Reagan had few previous terrorist incidents to help him decide what an appropriate course of action would be. Obama on the other hand has more than 30 years of terrorist incidents to draw lessons from. He's the Commander in Chief [ what a laugh ] and he sets policy for the military and diplomatic missions. His policies got Americans killed, can't blame it on Bush or anyone else. Two Marines for security ???? Hiring locals for "security". After 30 + years of muslim locals proving themselves unworthy of our trust ???? This is the foreign policy 'expertise' of President Obama and his administration. If not a complete meglomaniac he would step down from his office and go hide under a rock.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 1 month ago

How old are you? Did you not either live through the time or, at least, study some history. Check out 11/4/1979, 5/6/1981,4/18/1983 and then tell me how many attacks and diplomatic errors are required before someone is sufficiently experienced.

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notblind 2 years, 1 month ago

3 or 4 years is not the same as 30 + years plus having 9-11 occur. It should be obvious by now that there is a large segment of muslims that wish us harm and having your head in the sand isn't going to change things.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 1 month ago

Not just 3 or 4 years. During Reagan's time in office,3 Embassies were bombed plus 1 marine barracks 3 terrorist hijackings and other major bombings including Pan Am flight 103. As I said, How many errors before experience sets in. If it takes that long, shouldn't we keep the more experienced man in office instead of the self centered newcomer that speaks before he thinks? What kind of evidence is needed for you to admit that Reagan was not a great president? His only asset was the ability to deliver a great speech.

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nicholson 2 years, 1 month ago

Say that again, get your head out of your Rolling Stone magazine blog fantasy land and move into reality. The "more experienced man in office" that you adore has NO executive or management experience, much less foreign policy experience, and that is precisely why the US is being attacked by terrorists now - they smell WEAK leadership (just like they did with Jimmy Carter). Leading from behind and sending mixed signals ("Egypt is not an ally, ok, Egypt is an ally") is not a policy of success. Romney has the backbone to say that we should not be apologizing to the terrorists who just killed 4 Americans and that free speech is something we should stand for - he appeared FAR more presidential than Obama, who went to campaign in Las Vegas and didn't even have a press conference. Your absurd revisionist history cannot change the fact that Reagan, among many accomplishments, turned around a horrible economy and helped end the cold war. Even Obama praises Reagan's ability to lead. Yes, Reagan could give a great speech by focusing on the positive and he didn't need a teleprompter at all times like your totally inept leader, who only focuses on dividing the country.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 1 month ago

And what point cited above do you think is "revisionist"? All happened. Also your "fabulous" Reagan had the greatest growth of government spending of any president in the last 50 years. Had the greatest percent increase in the national debt of an president in the last 50 years. Had the greatest increase in the homeless in the last 50 years. I didn't look at all dow jones increases but Reagan only had 150% increase compared to Clinton's 200% increase. Did look at GW Bush which was a decrease so Reagan's wasn't the poorest stock market performance. Please explain by what measurement that you believe Reagan turned around our economy. By all these measurements of economic stability, Clinton far exceeded Reagan's record. And where did you get the myth that Reagan not using a teleprompter? According to numerous sources, he always used teleprompters, never wrote his speech. You can even find numerous pictures of Reagan with the teleprompters visible. Isn't it time deal with facts instead of myths?

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nicholson 2 years, 1 month ago

As usual, you would rather be far out in the weeds, talking about a President from 32 years ago instead of defending the current president that you worship. I am surprised you didn't throw Clint Eastwood into the mix again. Duh, spending increased under Reagan due to the military spending required to end the cold war. Do you really need me to spoon feed you everything? If Reagan is the dud that you claim, why is Obama claiming to be like him at every chance he gets? I think all of the millions of unemployed people would much rather have the Reagan economy than the failed Obama one. Obama is such a total failure that he has try to run on Clinton's record because his own record is dismal. Clinton and Reagan, were smart enough LEADERS, to realize that they had to work with the opposition party in congress, something your leader from academia has yet to figure out. Even more outrageous, Obama thinking that because he spent some of his childhood in a Muslim country & then going so far as to apologize to the Muslims in 2009 speech in Cairo, that was somehow going to keep the Muslim terrorists from attacking this country. Boy, that has worked out really well this week as 4 people are dead and 21 countries are having uprisings and burning our flag. Obama, in his ivory tower, is nowhere to be found, except on the campaign trail, and refuses to meet with our one true ally in the region.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 1 month ago

I have attempted to lead you to the facts. You obviously are not interested in seeking facts but continue to echo the false Republican propaganda so I must assume that facts do not interest you. I won't waste more of my time responding to things so easily proven false such as Obama apologizing to Muslims. You should read his speech instead of listening to talking points from the right wing that will say anything to get Obama out of office. The irresponsible use of freedom of speech from a right wing extremist is the cause of the demonstrations. These are not uprisings. Those terrorists that attacked the embassy was not a part of the demonstration but a small, well armed, well planned assault. The news does not mention that some of the demonstrators are pro-American. See this link

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nicholson 2 years, 1 month ago

Say that again (Jan), your statement "The irresponsible use of freedom of speech from a right wing extremist is the cause of the demonstrations. These are not uprisings" is simply INSANE. Burning down buildings, throwing rocks, burning an effigy of Obama and replacing the stars and stripes with the black Muslim flag in multiple countries is not an uprising? The video has been out since June and who says it was made by "right wing extremist"? . What is TRULY scary is that you obviously do not believe in free speech and are giving credence to these terrorists to justify what they did. Unbelievable.

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notblind 2 years, 1 month ago

Pointing out the failures of past presidents can never make Obama better than his own record which is as bad as it can get. I agree with you that Reagan was not nearly the president that his cheerleaders make him out to be. His support of amnesty for illegal aliens was just plain stupid. Nonetheless, he did many great things for the country and the world. The same cannot be said for Obama who has done more damage to this country and this society than any president in history including LBJ who's presidency started our nations precipitous decline.

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 1 month ago

The author is right, America does need to speak with one voice during times like these. Unfortunately, the voice coming from the White House appears to be one of apology and apathy. We're sorry that some radical Muslims had their feelings hurt over a movie. Never mind that people in the US have put images of Jesus in urine and called it art, we're so sorry that you guys were offended.

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gwinnettisgreat1 2 years, 1 month ago

The title of this "article" (more like a "quit picking on my boy" rant) is correct. Obama is no Gipper nor is he Mr. Foreign Affairs. Obama as a self proclaimed Muslim himself thinks the way to handle this non-sense is to not insult the Muslim brotherhood any more and lets just be good little neighbors and close our windows and doors and this will all go away. Robinson, your boy is failing miserably at his job. People of other Muslim countries are embolden to do whatever they please to our diplomats. Why? Because the suit at the White House has no back bone. Just words. Your boy is good at words, too bad I can't say the same for your article.

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kevin 2 years, 1 month ago

Once upon a time, I found an American writer that cannot speak the truth in the paper. As for your comment on Romney, I would take anyone that attacks our enemy, for whatever reasons, over a person (Obama) that only apologizes to our enemy. They killed Americans and this is all you can talk about? At least Romney has guts and can layout a plan to stop this sort of thing. At least our past Presidents found a way to return the favor to our enemies in the past. All Obama does is sit in his chair with his feet up on the desk, when not playing golf, and sends a drone in for a kill, without even giving them a fair trial. Sorry, Eugene, you have put your foot into your mouth once again. Won't you ask Obama, your love of life, who are our allies and enemies in the Middle East. Maybe then you can print some facts. Are you really that scared to ask for some facts to print for us all to read? Maybe Obama (a Muslim himself) will expose himself a little more, like he needs more trash about his character. Of course Obama doesn't want to kill Muslims,he is one of them. Pretty stupid thing to do by keep sending billions to countries that hate and kill us while we have a President who just insists on taking away our freedom of speech by apologizing to the enemy. Next step for a socialist government, censor our free speech on the internet.

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notblind 2 years, 1 month ago

There are a huge number of Obama cheerleaders working under the guise of journalists.

Two bits four bits six bits a dollar. Vote for Obama or we'er going to holler !!!!!!!!!!

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