By Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON — Apparently there’s a contest among Republicans to see who can be more shameless and irresponsible in criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy. So far, Chris Christie is winning.
The New Jersey governor alleged Saturday that “the unrest you see in the Middle East is caused in some measure — not completely, but in some measure — by the fact that this president has not acted in a decisive, consistent way.”
If you disregard the rantings of unserious provocateurs such as Sarah Palin, Christie’s attack represents a new low. He accuses the president of the United States of actually being responsible “in some measure” for violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Sunnis and Shiites, dictators and rebels — conflicts and antagonisms that began, I seem to recall, well before Obama took office in January 2009.
One might assume that Christie offered specific ideas about what Obama should be doing differently. Nope.
The president should be “trying to bring stability to that region by having America be a forceful voice in favor of a democracy like Israel and be condemning, in the strongest terms and in actions, the things that are being done by Hamas against Israel.” All of which Obama has already done.
Asked whether Obama should take some kind of military action in the region, Christie answered, “I’m not going to give opinions on that. I’m not the president.”
Very helpful, Governor. Please return to your intensive study of traffic patterns on the George Washington Bridge.
Other Republicans who, like Christie, are running for president offer equally vague and useless criticisms of Obama’s policies in the Middle East and around the world. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who’s going for the bookish intellectual look these days — he has started wearing glasses and stopped wearing cowboy boots — wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post accusing Obama of “confused leadership and passivity” that “enabled groups such as the Islamic State to grow.”
What exactly, in Perry’s view, did Obama do wrong? We’ll never know, I guess, because “the window to shape events for the better passed years ago.” It would have been helpful had Perry let us know at the time he saw that window passing, or perhaps closing, or something.
Perry does suggest there is still time for the United States to provide “meaningful assistance” in Iraq and Syria, including “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and airstrikes.” But he neglects to specify whom we should meaningfully assist. One of the also-ran rebel groups in Syria, the sectarian Shiite-dominated government in Iraq, the Islamic theocracy in Iran …
In fairness, Perry’s prime target wasn’t Obama. He was aiming at Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, whose “isolationist” policies Perry sees as a potentially grave threat to our national security. The fact that Paul also poses a potentially grave threat to Perry’s presidential ambitions — he leads most polls for the GOP nomination — is pure coincidence, I’m sure.
Paul responded with an op-ed in Politico, saying of Perry that “apparently his new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly.” He notes that during the 2012 campaign, Perry advocated sending troops “back into Iraq” to counter the growing influence of Iran — but now seems to advocate helping Iran against the Islamic State extremists.
In the Politico piece, Paul refrains from gratuitous criticism of Obama. But in a National Review essay earlier this month, Paul blasted the White House for urging Israel to show “restraint” in responding to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Paul called for a cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority. He should be smart enough to understand that this would only strengthen the position of Hamas. But perhaps his real aim is to dispel the notion that he is insufficiently pro-Israel.
The Republican critique of Obama’s foreign policy that has achieved the most traction — undeservedly so, in my view — comes from a non-candidate: Mitt Romney. The basic thrust: “I told you so.”
But what was Romney so right about, except the blindingly obvious? That a large, permanent U.S. residual force in Iraq could have prevented the gains by the Islamic State? Of course, but the American public didn’t support keeping troops there and the Iraqi government said no. That it would be better if the “moderate” rebels were winning in Syria? Certainly, but shaping the outcome of that multi-sided civil war would require a robust intervention.
People who see easy options really should have their eyes checked.
Eugene Robinson is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.