I sat last night to hear the “town hall” type debate and personally focused on some of the foreign policy issues which surprisingly were asked by the citizen participants.
One of the questions was about the security issues that resulted in the attack on our mission in Benghazi in Libya. As a former diplomat who focused on the threat of terrorist attacks against our missions and personnel abroad for part of my career, I was outraged and saddened at Gov. Romney’s political attacks again. I chaired a committee of the American Foreign Service Association focused on these very questions. With this perspective, I was appalled that Gov. Romney tried to use a tragic situation for cheap political gain. It brings into question his fitness to be a responsible president and “Commander-in-chief.”
This was not the first time he used this subject in order divert attention from his dismissal of 47% of our citizens and to undermine the existing approval of American citizens in Obama leadership abroad. Yet, he added little of our understanding of America’s role in the region.
Further, I want all to know that decisions about security in a particular embassy or mission is NOT normally taken to the President – not even many times to the Secretary of State. I worked for several secretaries of state as a policy planner and also in the White House and have some concept of the chain of information and decision-making in this area.
President Obama made a courageous decision to take responsibility for a decision and situation for which he had no direct involvement and was not at the presidential level before the attack. He did, however, act afterwards in directing an investigation, increasing the security in our missions in the area, and put forth finding and punishing the attackers.
There are serious issues concerning our goals, policies, and activities to deal with the Arab Spring, unrest in the region, and helping in the building of decent governments while seeking peace in the region. Romney gave us not a single bit of new insight regarding his specific different actions from what Obama is already doing. In fact, Obama has carried out a wide range of useful actions and policies from the start of his administration. Reaching out to the Muslim world along with rebuilding our trust in the region (after the disasters of the Bush administration) help us deal with Iran and creates cooperation on other issues in the region. Obama, in fact, built a measure of trust and dialogue where only antagonism existed due to our previous policies.
The exploiting of this serious, tragic, difficult, and still not clear situation instead of a more broad debate on major policies was unfortunate. I hope the next debate will add and not detract from that goal rather than making it into a leaver against a president who was and is still acting with concern and responsibility. It was an effort to divert attention from Romney’s clear void of foreign policy depth. Yes, it was a cheap shot and beneath anyone running for president.