Blaming Barack Obama for the Middle East being a more dangerous place today than four years ago, as Mitt Romney did in his weekend foreign-policy speech, is a little hard to accept, after a Republican president named George W. Bush gave the world the debacle of the Iraq War – the consequences of which Mr. Obama has been dealing with about as well as could be expected.
It is history turned on its head. In this view, Mr. Obama was implicitly to blame for the attack on the embassy in Benghazi that killed four U.S. citizens, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He has mismanaged the Arab spring and failed to stare down Iran. And only Republicans can be trusted to protect the security of the United States, at home and abroad.
But there’s a reason Mr. Romney didn’t mention Mr. Bush’s name in his speech. He took his eye off Osama bin Laden and terrorists in Afghanistan to fight a war in Iraq based on juiced-up intelligence. With the U.S. thus occupied, bin Laden went free and the Taliban in Afghanistan took heart and settled in for a war that still goes on. And Iran decided it was safe from attack and continued to develop its nuclear weapons program.
But the tough talk from Mr. Romney was overwrought. The president’s role, he said, is “to use America’s great power to shape history.” What exactly would he do differently than Mr. Obama to shape history and lead events? Mr. Obama ended U.S. involvement in Iraq and is winding down the Afghanistan war. Mr. Romney would wind down Afghanistan more slowly. And he would give heavy weapons to Syrian rebels – though isn’t there a danger they could be used against the U.S. one day, or fall into terrorists’ hands? On Iran, he would place a warship in the Persian Gulf (Mr. Obama has put two warships there) and one in the eastern Mediterranean. And while he correctly reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel’s security, he went much further, suggesting his policies would be made in Jerusalem: he would make sure there is “never any daylight” between the two countries’ positions. Bomb Iran when Benjamin Netanyahu decides? That’s leadership?
Mr. Obama has stood up to terrorism; he was the chief decision-maker who enabled the killing of Mr. bin Laden in Pakistan; time will tell how successfully he has dealt with the difficult challenges of the Arab Spring, but he has approached the changes with courage; and the sanctions against Iran he has pushed for are starting to bite. It’s a solid record, when history is placed right side up.