Time (and the election) will tell whether Mitt Romney was right to avoid a fight with the president in last night’s debate. Transcript here.
Romney supporters are saying that he was trying to look presidential. In that, he succeeded.
It also appeared that he decided, in sports lingo, to sit on a lead. It isn’t always the best tactic.
As I say, time will tell.
Since everyone is parsing the debate transcript to within an inch of its meaning I want to emphasize two things that were not said. Call it my “dog that didn’t bark” analysis.
First, Mitt Romney glossed over Benghazi. He did not mention Ambassador Stevens, the attack on our Embassy, the administration failure to protect Amb. Stevens, its mixed messages about who was responsible for the attack, or even the word Benghazi.
Romney was trying to look presidential by rising above the fray. Unfortunately, he had raised the issue of Benghazi in the previous debate and had been slapped down by the moderator and by President Obama.
One pundit yesterday predicted that Romney would have mastered the details of the attack and its aftermath and would have come to the debate ready to fight.
He did not.
This made him appear to concede the point to the president and the media.
Like it or not, it did not make him look good.
Perhaps more notable than Romney’s omission of Benghazi was Obama’s failure to speak the words Islam and Muslim.
In his first answer Romney did mention the rise of Islamic radicalism in Northern Africa. He noted that Egypt is now being ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The point was clear and cogent. Romney added a series of policy prescriptions that would move the Arab Spring in a more positive direction.
When called upon to address these issues, Obama airbrushed reality. Not once did he acknowledge the reality of what is happening in the new Muslim Brotherhood controlled Egypt. Never did the words Muslim or Islam pass his lips.
I will quote his remarks at length. One might argue that they are properly hopeful. Nevertheless, when your presentation is so unbalanced that you are looking at the situation through self-serving rose-colored glasses you are colluding with a fiction and telling the Muslim Brotherhood that you approve of what they are doing.
Last night Obama suggested that it didn’t matter who won the election. If it was democratic, this was enough.
Next, he insisted that he expects the new Egyptian leaders in Egypt adhere to liberal values.
In Obama’s words:
But what I've also said is that now that you have a democratically elected government in Egypt, that they have to make sure that they take responsibility for protecting religious minorities -- and we have put significant pressure on them to make sure they're doing that -- to recognize the rights of women, which is critical throughout the region. These countries can't develop if young women are not given the kind of education that they need.
They have to abide by their treaty with Israel. That is a red line for us, because not only is Israel's security at stake, but our security is at stake if that unravels.
They have to make sure that they're cooperating with us when it comes to counterterrorism. And we will help them with respect to developing their own economy, because ultimately, what's going to make the Egyptian revolution successful for the people of Egypt but also for the world is if those young people who gathered there are seeing opportunities.…
And so one of the things that we've been doing is -- is, for example, organizing entrepreneurship conferences with these Egyptians to -- to give them a sense of how they can start rebuilding their economy in a way that's noncorrupt, that's transparent.
By now everyone but Obama knows that the young champions of liberal democracy have lost out in Egypt. Everyone but Obama knows that knows that women and Coptic Christians are being brutalized, repressed and persecuted.
To pretend otherwise is to be blind to the reality of Islamist oppression.
We are left with the impression that Obama is conducting a policy of appeasement. He seems to believe that engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood will ultimately lead them toward more Western values.
Seeing how well it worked with Iran, why not try again?
To imagine that “entrepreneurship conferences” are just what Egypt needs is absurd.
While it is true that Egypt has formally recognized the peace treaty with Israel, the organization that godfathered Hamas is never going to be a friend of Israel. It is expedient today to send an ambassador to Israel. At some point in the future it will not be so expedient.
As for Obama’s vision of the Muslim world, last night he offered this:
Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn't just going after bin Laden. We've created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism -- in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we've also done is engage these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people's lives day to day, to make sure that their government aren't corrupt, to make sure that they are treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown, and to make sure that they've got a free market system that works.
It’s as though Obama believes that only extremists mistreat women. Apparently, he does not know that honor killings are widely used to terrorizing women throughout the Muslim world.
Does Obama think that women in Saudi Arabia are being treated with respect and dignity?
Does he understand that the Muslim Brothers in Egypt are hard at work turning back the clock on whatever progress women had made in Egypt? And that they do not care what we think about it?
Does he know that the new president of Egypt wants to acquire nuclear weapons and that he attended a recent religious service where the imam called for death to the Jews? And does he know that Morsi did not just sit there in silence? He affirmed the sentiments expressed by the imam.
If you did not get the message, Obama repeated:
So across the board, we are engaging them in building capacity in these countries and we have stood on the side of democracy. One thing I think Americans should be proud of -- when Tunisians began to protest, this nation, me, my administration stood with them earlier than just about any other country. In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.
As Mitt Romney pointed out, this does not explain why Obama did not stand with democracy protesters in Iran.
It appears that Obama is congenitally indisposed to speak ill of Islam or of Muslims.
We saw the same attitude when Obama groveled before the Islamic world denouncing a no-account video. Doesn’t this suggest that Obama is willing to go out of his way to show his obeisance to Islam?
After all, he was keeping a promise he made to the Islamic world in his famous Cairo speech in June, 2009.
In Obama’s words:
So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.
The last line received great applause from the audience. But, ask yourself this: since when has it been the responsibility of the President of the Unites States to “fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
Isn’t blasphemy a negative stereotype? Isn’t blasphemy protected by the constitution? How can you fight negative stereotypes of Islam and still protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?
Is Obama saying that he will fight negative stereotypes of Islam when they appear in Europe or Israel or India?
And, why does Obama single out Islam? Does he consider it a presidential responsibility to fight negative stereotypes of Judaism or Christianity?
If one religion receives an official privilege from the President doesn’t that violate the establishment of religion clause in the First Amendment to the American constitution?