Did Obama Reduce Ambassador Stevens To A "Bump In The Road"?

Barack Obama has had to endure a lot of idiocy from conservatives in his nearly four years in office—everything from Boehner's folly (in the debt-ceiling crisis) to Mitt Romney's constant Big Lying doltishness. On 60 Minutes on Sunday, Obama coherently explained his support for the Arab Spring democracy movement. Mitt Romney once again invented an attacking point out of a mischaracterization of what Obama said.
Mitt Romney has established a reliable pattern in his attack mode against President Obama—if it requires a demagogic distortion of the truth to make a charge, that's just fine with Romney.

Before this week, Romney's most infamous example of his willingness to employ the Big Lie was the "I built that" campaign, based on the premise that Barack Obama had told business owners in America "You didn't built that", in other words that they didn't build their businesses.

Romney's attack on Obama depended upon the fact that Obama often ignores the soundbite culture of politics in 2012, and actually tries to explain his positions using more than a catchy advertising slogan. In this case, Obama was explaining, as Will Rogers had explained it 80 years ago as well, that business owners never single-handedly build their businesses, but work in collaboration with others, and that they depend upon government in many ways, for example building roads and bridges. About the latter, Obama had told business owners—"You didn't build that"—which of course they didn't.

Romney focused upon those words, claiming the President had meant instead that the business owners hadn't built their businesses. While Obama did imply, rightly, that business owners don't function alone in building their businesses, he certainly never said anything like what Romney claimed. Yet, Obama soon found himself having to explain and defend himself against the false charge that he was anti-business. What Obama had clearly demonstrated was that he was not business first and only, but understood that American business fits into a broad community relationship, where a collective interest and investment enables many individuals and corporations to prosper. In that sense, Obama was arguing, government is most certainly a partner with business, and not its enemy.

Now, Romney is up to his old tricks, claiming that President Obama dismissed the recent death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans, in Benghazi, Libya, as just a "bump in the road". While Obama did in fact use the words "bump in the road" to describe the recent events in the Middle East, the context in which he did so gives no indication he was being in any way dismissive or blithe about the deaths of the Americans in Libya, or the recent widespread protests (some involving occupations of and attacks on US embassy grounds) in Muslim countries over the anti-Islamic movie, Innocence of Muslims.

Here is what Barack Obama actually said, on 60 Minutes on Sunday night, when he was asked if recent events in the Middle East had caused him to have second thoughts about supporting the political process and governments that had arisen as a result of the Arab Spring:
Well, I'd said even at the time [of the Arab Spring] that this is going to be a rocky path. The question presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change. I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance. But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, you know, can be tapped into by demagogues. There will probably be some times where we bump up against some of these countries and have strong disagreements, but I do think that over the long term we are more likely to get a Middle East and North Africa that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more aligned with our interests.
Whether you agree or disagree with that argument, the fact is it is a coherent and worthwhile point of view to put forward, and Mitt Romney, if he is going to oppose the President on this, should have an equally coherent counterproposal.

Here is what Mitt Romney said on the same program concerning how he would "ease the anti-American sentiment...in the Middle East":
Communicate to nations like Egypt, and Egypt is—if you will, the major player, 80 million people, the center of the Arab world. Egypt needs to understand what the rules are. That to remain an ally of the United States, to receive foreign aid from the United States, to receive foreign investment from ourselves and from our friends, I believe, around the world, that they must honor their peace agreement with Israel. That they must also show respect and provide civil rights for minorities in their country. And they also have to protect our embassies. I think we also have to communicate that Israel is our ally. Our close ally. The president's decision not to meet with Bibi Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, when the prime minister is here for the United Nations session, I think, is a mistake and it sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends and I think the exact opposite approach is what's necessary.
Let's parse this. First off, there is very little in Romney's statement the represents a departure from current US policy in the Middle East under Barack Obama. The President has communicated to Egypt that it needs to respect its treaty with Israel, and that it needs to protect our embassy. While President Obama has a businesslike relationship, instead of a personal one, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that is not an indication of any lessening of security commitments to Israel on the part of the US.

On the other hand, the notion that putting pressure on Egypt, singly, and dictating to them our rules, without regard to theirs, is hardly going to ease anti-American sentiment in Egypt or anywhere else in the Middle East. Further, Romney reveals once again why he is such a dangerous prospect as a president, since his primary focus in his response is bullying Egypt and cuddling up to his buddy, Bibi Netanyahu. It is precisely the view that the US is a guarantor of Israel's security—but also its offenses against the Palestinian people—that is the primary cause of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. Of course, America's bloody wars against Muslim nations over the past couple of decades haven't won many Muslim hearts and minds either.

One place where apparently that isn't the case is Libya, where despite the fact that a terrorist attack succeeded in killing four Americans, the backlash of the Libyan people against the terrorists is remarkable. The Libyans have responded with pro-American demonstrations, expressions of shame and regret for the deaths of the Americans, and thousands of Libyans, protesting against anti-government militia organizations (tied to terrorism) in Benghazi, sent the militia leaders fleeing.

Lastly, in the New York Times today, there is a highly critical article of Obama's Middle East policy. Focusing on Obama's decision to abandon support for Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a decision much-criticized by conservatives in the US even today, the article repeatedly talks about what a strong ally and friend of the US Mubarak was, and how risky it was for Obama to support his giving up power. After all, the democracy thing is really dangerous—why people might just decide to do what they want, instead of what America's network of friendly dictators tell them to do.

Buried deep in the Times article, where few people will probably read it, is the following assessment:
"In the Situation Room, Mr. Gates, Admiral Mullen, Jeffrey D. Feltman, then an assistant secretary of state, and others balked at the inclusion in Mr. Obama’s planned remarks that Mr. Mubarak’s 'transition must begin now,' arguing that it was too aggressive. Mr. Mubarak had steadfastly stood by the United States in the face of opposition from his own public, they said."
Really, they said that, like it's a good thing, and something the United States should be proud of. Instead, Obama was quite reasonably hoping to start making amends for that Cold War attitude, and also, as the Times says, he was simply ahead of the curve compared to these supposedly more seasoned and wiser hands regarding the inevitability of the revolution taking place across the Muslim world.

The Times concludes about Obama's insight regarding Egypt and Mubarak: "In the end, many of the advisers who initially opposed Mr. Obama’s stance now give him credit for prescience."

Any American official, especially a US president, having prescience about anything in the Middle East, especially in light of the fiasco of policy that has been going on for twenty years (or decades longer than that really) is a major foreign policy accomplishment. If Mitt Romney were a serious candidate, he would acknowledge that and admit, as is evident from his own comments about the situation, that his main difference with Obama is in the extent to which Romney thinks vain bluster is the same thing as commanding respect.

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