Mitt Romney takes on Apologist-in-Chief over Libya

Our weekly round-up on foreign coverage of the presidential elections

By Nicholas Nehamas

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi burns. (Reuters)

The murder of United States Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff in Libya has thrust a foreign policy crisis to the forefront of the presidential election.

Journalists around the world are asking: Did Mitt Romney torpedo his campaign by accusing President Barack Obama of sympathizing with anti-American rioters throughout the Middle East?

Romney issued a statement on the attacks well before Obama or Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke publicly on Stevens’ death. The Republican then kept up the pressure on the president at a press conference the next day, saying “the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. Apology for American values is never the right course.”

To his critics, writes Konrad Yakabuski, Washington correspondent for Canada’s Globe and Mail, Romney’s hasty response revealed a troubling lack of judgement:

The incident evoked John McCain’s bungled reaction to the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers, almost four years ago to the day. Mr. McCain’s suggestion then that the fundamentals of the economy were sound turned his “Lehman moment” into the point of no return for his presidential campaign against Barack Obama.

No time to kiss and make up

But Romney’s accusations certainly fired up his base, sending the Twitter-sphere and right-wing blogs into an anti-Obama frenzy. Since publishing his political manifesto “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness” in 2010, Romney has repeatedly described the president as a sort of Apologist-in-Chief for America’s foreign policy.

If Romney’s right about Obama, foreigners sure aren’t interested in accepting the president’s apologies. A new survey by the global polling firm YouGov found that three-quarters of Pakistanis and two-thirds of Arabs don’t trust the U.S. The hope of a rapprochement between America and the Muslim world after Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo has faded badly in the intervening years.

France24.com sat down with Khaled Elgindy, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institute, to find out why. Some of the problem, Elgindy explains, is that Obama hasn’t made much progress in resolving the Palestinian question, a historic source of tension between Muslims and the U.S. He continues:

Part of the hope came from the fact that people were relieved that Bush was gone. Obama is someone who doesn’t look or talk like Bush. That pushed expectations even higher. So a lot of it was just relief, because from an Arab point of view, Bush was responsible for a lot of harm: in Iraq, Palestine, and in the Muslim world. So now, they’re saying: “We thought this guy would be really different from Bush, but he’s actually pretty similar — not in the things he says, but in the things he does” . . . Arabs are disappointed because, on the ground, policy has not really changed from the Bush era.

Europeans don’t ♥ Romney

It should come as even less of a surprise that Europeans feel little affinity towards the conservative Romney: 38 percent have never even heard of the former Massachusetts governor, according to recent polling data, and 39 percent who knew him expressed an unfavorable opinion about him. Some were downright cruel: the center-right French daily Le Figaro ran a headline in July asking, “Mitt Romney est-il un loser?” (Translation: “Is Mitt Romney a loser?”)

Meanwhile, 82 percent of Europeans approve of Obama, though 71 percent said they think he’s doing a good job on foreign policy.

Mitt Romney’s father, George, emigrated from Mexico as a young boy. (Reuters)

In general, European conservatives — who tend to be more liberal than most Republicans — are down on Romney. (Here’s London’s Tory mayor lambasting the candidate shortly before the Olympics kicked off.) The Spectator, a weekly magazine well on Britain’s political right, recently asked, “Is Mitt Romney Doomed Already?” The author of that question, Alex Massie, studied recent polling data and concluded that, even taking into account the Republicans’ significant lead among white voters, “there’s no doubt which campaign you’d rather run and it’s not Mitt Romney’s.”

Perhaps one reason for Romney’s global unpopularity is his jingoistic insistence that America is “the greatest nation in the history of the earth.” It’s not just a Republican talking point. An editorial in America Economia, a Latin American magazine, argues that “the fantasy of an ‘American exceptionalism’ (‘the notion that the U.S. plays a special role in world affairs’) drives both Democrats and Republicans to extreme and unreal positions,” especially on immigration.

The good folks over at Worldcrunch.com have translated the entire piece, which calls on America to modernize its immigration policy, from the original Spanish. One highlight:

As much as the U.S. cannot welcome the whole world into the country, it also cannot close itself off like a medieval fortress. The U.S. needs a migration policy that is modern and practical. The current laws lead to situations that are absurd to the point of being comical. A society with one of the most complicated security systems in the world refuses to recognize millions of people who are citizens for all practical purposes. Those people can spend a quarter of a century living a normal life and then suddenly be deported, by chance or because of a local political campaign.

Obama and Romney, of course, are both the sons of immigrant fathers, one Kenyan, the other born in Mexico.

It’s all pretty heavy, wonky stuff. So we’ll leave you on a lighter note: this awesome photo-gallery, compiled by Russia’s RIA Novosti, of Romney and Obama imitators causing a stir in Times Square.