Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romney's Foreign Policy Attacks on Obama Live in a Land Without Facts

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

Imagine former Yankee shortstop Fred Stanley said Derek Jeter was a bad hitter, and he, not Jeter, was the greatest slugging shortstop in team history. You would smile at the silliness of the statement. Stanley is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but the overwhelming weight of evidence would say he is wrong. After all, aside from the fact that Stanley batted only .222 in his eight seasons in pinstripes, there is a mountain of career data to attest to Derek Jeter's greatness: 3,215 hits, an OPS+ of 117 (or 17 percent over league average), a batting average of .313 and an on-base percentage of .382, just to name a few pieces of evidence.

Put another way, in a world of facts, it is patently ridiculous for Stanley to argue that Jeter is a bad hitter and he is, in fact, better. Such a statement would be met by snickers and maybe some media coverage meant to amuse, but nobody would take Stanley's assertions seriously.

(My apologies to Mr. Stanley. I'm just using his record to make a point. I have no doubt he is a very nice guy and would never claim to be better than Derek Jeter.)

Why have I subjected you to three paragraphs filled with baseball geekery? Because in criticizing the president's foreign policy record, Mitt Romney is the Fred Stanley of presidential politics. He is making statements that go against the facts, hoping to score political points with those who are either too lazy to find out the truth or too ensconced in the right-wing, facts-optional media echo chamber to care.

Romney made a stink Tuesday, blaming the president for leaks that he found "contemptible" and "a betray[al] of our national interest," and criticizing him for his policies, including not standing up to China and Iran. Much like my imaginary Fred Stanley outburst, I found Romney's hissy fit entertaining.

After all, Obama's foreign policy record is hard to assail, if you stick to facts (something Romney doesn't like to do). Even David Brooks, who on July 16 slobbered all over Romney as the embodiment of good capitalism while criticizing the Obama campaign's attacks on Bain Capital, devoted a column to the president's stellar foreign policy record (just three days later). Brooks wrote:

"Barack Obama has been a good foreign policy president. He, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the rest of his team have created a style of policy making that is flexible, incremental and well adapted to the specific circumstances of this moment. Following a foreign policy hedgehog, Obama’s been a pretty effective fox."

And, unfortunately for Romney, Brooks directly addressed Obama's dealings with China and Iran:

"Obama has also shown an impressive ability to learn along the way. He came into office trying to dialogue with dictators in Iran and North Korea. When that didn’t work, he learned his lesson and has been much more confrontational since.  ...

Obama has managed ambiguity well. This is most important in the case of China. When the Chinese military was overly aggressive, he stood up to China and reasserted America’s permanent presence in the Pacific. At the same time, it’s misleading to say there is a single China policy. There are myriad China policies on myriad fronts, some of which are confrontational and some of which are collaborative.

Obama has also dealt with uncertainty pretty well. No one knows what will happen if Israel or the U.S. strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities. Confronted with that shroud of ignorance, Obama has properly pushed back the moment of decision-making for as long as possible, just in case anything positive turns up. This has meant performing a delicate dance — pressing Israelis to push back their timetable while, at the same time, embracing their goals. The period of delay may be ending, but it’s been useful so far."

It's easy for Romney to jump up and down and prattle on about how the president has to stand up to bad guys, but, as Brooks points out, these matters are complex and nuanced. Watching Romney's faux tough guy hysterics becomes even more entertaining when you find out that key members of his foreign policy team were instrumental in urging the U.S. to invade Iraq. So the guy oversimplifying complicated problems, backed by a team that was colossally wrong a decade ago and ushered the country into one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in its history, is criticizing the president, whose record is so impressive a conservative columnist who had just praised the first guy as a master capitalist wrote a love letter to the president's foreign policy acumen. You can't make this stuff up!

When you throw in how much more aggressive the president has been than his predecessor in seeking out and killing Islamic militants (including stepping up drone attacks and conducting a cyberwar campaign against Iran), not to mention authorizing the daring mission to take out Osama bin Laden, who George W. Bush wasn't concerned about finding, for Romney to accuse Obama of betraying the country's interests is nothing short of laughable. And Romney's fake aggressive stance looks idiotic next to the president's actual hard line (if only Obama showed the same backbone in battling Republicans in Congress).

And, of course, the cherry on the sundae is Romney's disastrous performance today in London on the first day of his first big international trip as a candidate, which was designed to show the country that, despite having zero experience in foreign policy, he is fit to conduct the country's business abroad. (Again, you can't make this stuff up.) Romney's spectacular diplomatic gaffe, coming so early in the trip, only spotlights how silly his criticisms are of the president's foreign policy record.

(And to anticipate a right-wing talking point: Even the relatively inexperienced Obama had some foreign policy experience from his time in the U.S. Senate. Romney has literally none.)

When Romney stumbles his way through London after attacking the president's foreign policy record, he clearly has left the world of facts and truth and entered a never-never land of political accusations that pander to the values--and tap into the fears--of his base.

I have no doubt that as the campaign starts to really heat up, we will see a steady flow of equally ridiculous accusations flying from Romney on a range of issues. Hopefully, most Americans, come November, will see that Romney is the Fred Stanley of American politics. Otherwise, we'll be stuck with the equivalent of a .222 hitter in the White House.