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Mitt Romney’s Big Bad Ideas for the Middle East

Posted on Oct 31, 2011
Gage Skidmore (CC-BY-SA)

By Juan Cole

Mitt Romney, stuck in the 20s in Republican opinion polls, has begun flailing around trying to make a splash on foreign policy. He has charged that President Barack Obama’s coddling of dictators provoked the masses of the Middle East to the Arab Spring and sent it “out of control.” Romney needs an issue. Evangelicals are skittish about his Mormon faith. He is not the favorite of the populist and somewhat isolationist tea party activists. As a quarter-billionaire former head of a private equity investment firm that specialized in outsourcing American jobs, he faces uncomfortable questions from unemployed and underpaid Americans. Desperate, Romney has decided to try to depict Obama as clueless and weak on Middle East issues.

It is a doomed gambit. Obama has had a string of foreign policy successes this year, especially in the Middle East. His special forces took out Osama bin Laden and he authorized a drone strike that eliminated al-Qaida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki. He deftly handled the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, so far retaining the friendship of those countries as they move from pro-American dictatorships to parliamentary regimes. His Libya gamble paid off with a transitional government in Tripoli that may be the first in the Arab world whose members and supporters have waved American flags. On Oct. 21, he announced the end of another long national nightmare in Iraq, with the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country by the end of this year. Left-of-center Democrats, including this writer, have questioned Obama’s methods, but the achievements are undeniably popular in Peoria.

The Arab revolutions of 2011 have already removed three dictators and forced governments across the region to abolish draconian states of emergency. Tunisia has had free and fair parliamentary elections, and Egypt’s are scheduled to begin in late November. What is Romney’s response to these epochal events? “We’re facing an Arab Spring which is out of control in some respects because the president was not as strong as he needed to be in encouraging our friends to move toward representative forms of government,” he says.

Romney has conveniently forgotten that as late as Feb. 1 of this year, he was on CNN saying, “I probably would avoid the term ‘dictator’ in referring to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.” He was more generous to his predecessors then, not seeking to blame Mubarak’s non-dictatorship (1981-2011) on Obama. Instead, he said, “Over many administrations in this country, we’ve encouraged President Mubarak to move in the direction of providing … freedoms.” But pre-candidate Romney had some reservations about muscular Wilsonianism. He cautioned, “If a nation is … headed by [a] leader whose form of government we don’t particularly appreciate or approve of, we don’t come in and say, we won’t work with you. … This, after all, was an administration which has been friendly with us, has had agreements with us to protect the stability of Israel, our ally. So we can’t just say we’re going to rip everything apart and fashion your nation the way we would like to be.” Such strength. It is surprising that Mubarak didn’t just resign on the spot after hearing Romney’s thunderous condemnation.

Like his rival Michele Bachmann, Romney has pledged that he would let the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu make U.S. policy toward Israel. It is not clear how this pusillanimity toward the Israel lobbies is consistent with his demand that the president show “strength.” Romney instead urges that the U.S. not take an active leadership role in trying to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a time when the Arab masses are highly politicized, Romney has promised to unilaterally foreclose the issue of the final status of Jerusalem by moving the U.S. Embassy there, a gesture that would surely spark a massive backlash in the region.


Square, Site wide

The pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq is one of the few steps the U.S. could take to repair its tarnished image in the Middle East. But the move provoked a chorus of jeremiads from Republicans slamming President Obama. Romney suggested the decision either resulted from “naked political calculation” or “sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government.” He characterized the troop withdrawal as a failure to “secure an orderly transition” in Iraq that endangered “the victories that were won” by U.S. military personnel. He implied that the administration had somehow kept the public from hearing the recommendations of U.S. military commanders. Recently he called the U.S. departure, after eight interminable years of fruitless bombings, civil war, ethnic cleansing and massive population displacement, “precipitous.”

Romney’s sour reaction to the good news that the illegal Iraq War was finally at an end is full of posturing and innuendo. The Status of Forces Agreement passed by the Iraqi parliament in 2008 and signed by Republican President George W. Bush specified the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for U.S. forces to depart that country. In April 2007, Romney had expressed support for “timetables and milestones” worked out between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of which the Status of Forces Agreement would appear to be an example. Maliki all along maintained that the agreement was not susceptible to revision and that any new agreement would have to be passed by the nation’s legislature. Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 until Oct. 1 of this year, concurred with Maliki (worth mentioning since Romney is so eager that we hear the Pentagon on all this).

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By ambassador syed ahsani, February 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

it reins in the national debt… The election-year budget President Obama sent to Congress Monday fails that test.”
USA Today isn’t exactly a hotbed of right-wingery, and yet even the center-left paper admits that this Democratic president remains a failure in addressing our debt.
But apparently the Republican Party isn’t exactly a hotbed of right-wingery either, as for all their current criticism of Obama’s budget, Santorum, Romney and Gingrich haven’t offered plans that address the debt either. As The Daily Caller’s Alex Pappas wrote in December:
All Republicans running for president say they want to cut federal spending.
But a study the libertarian Cato Institute conducted by analyzing the candidates’ websites showed that most of them are light on details about specific cuts they would insist on as president.
The study’s author, Tad DeHaven, wrote in his “Guide to the Presidential Candidates’ Proposals to Cut Spending” that Texas Rep. Ron Paul stands out the most.
“When it comes to proposing specific spending cuts and identifying the dollars amounts, Paul’s website is unrivaled,” DeHaven explained.
“He is the only candidate to put together an actual budget proposal,” he said. “Paul’s spending proposals would amount to the largest reduction in the size and scope of the federal government of any candidate.”
Indeed. The only arguable difference between Santorum, Romney and Gingrich and Obama is the margin by which they might grow government and spending, but they will all continue to spend money we don’t ave. Sure, they all claim to want to cut government and spending but none offer any specifics. This is the time during the election when the candidates are supposed to at least try to lie to us. But even in campaign mode, most of the Republican presidential candidates won’t even pretend that they can cut government to the degree that conservatives desire and fiscal reality demands.
If you truly want to cut spending, there is no one but Ron Paul. If you truly want to tackle the national debt, there is no one but Ron Paul. This isn’t shilling for favorites, it’s mathematical reality.
If you simply want another Republican to manage big government and maintain our debt, then by all means, “surge” away. But if you want the reduction of debt, deficits and government that virtually everyone–from USA Today to the Tea Party–says absolutely must happen…
There is no one but Ron Paul. Period.
Ambassador Syed Ahsani
National Delegate,Democratic Party,Los Angeles,2000;State Delegate in 1998,2000,2002,2004,2006;Precinct Chair from 1998-present’Presiding Judge since 1998
Chairman,Southwest Region,Dallas/Fort Worth,American Muslim Task Force for Civil Rights and Elections


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By heterochromatic, November 6, 2011 at 10:33 am Link to this comment

The end of the Ottoman Empire has left the people of
the Middle East on a position to continue striving for

Slow going, but progress is being made. Still much
bigotry and lack of respect for human rights.

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By prosefights, November 6, 2011 at 7:37 am Link to this comment

Iran cornerstone of possible WW3 over Mid East

US ‘absolutely’ concerned Israel will strike Iran

Liberal arts ‘educated’ Condoleezza Rice commented on Saturday November 5, 2011 TV on Iran, its nuclear program, and ...  Not good.  Liberal arts ‘educatated’ ‘thinking’, imo.

We continue to advocated settlement and return of our $22,036.

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Silence is Complicity's avatar

By Silence is Complicity, November 6, 2011 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

Lest the world forgets the crimes of the Colonial Powers against humanity, please read and get educated! The balance of this article can be read at Sabbah
Balfour’s apartheid legacy

by Stuart Littlewood on November 5, 2011

Arthur Balfour’s infamous “Declaration” was written 94 years ago this week. Palestinians, of course, don’t need reminding.

And to mark the anniversary Israel ordered its warships to carry out yet another act of piracy on peaceful, innocent shipping carrying humanitarian relief to the imprisoned people of Gaza.

Let’s cast out minds back…. Stephen Ostrander’s simple verse cuts through all the rhetoric to the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Balfour DeclarationFor centuries long
our land enslaved
by Turkish kings
with sharpened blade.
We prayed to end
the Sultan’s curse,
the British came
and spoke a verse.
“It’s World War One,
if you agree
to fight with us
we’ll set you free.”
The war we fought
at Britain’s side,
our blood was shed
for Arab pride.
At war’s end
Turks were smitten,
our only gain,
the lies of Britain.

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By DBM, November 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm Link to this comment

Shades of John McCain ... having come close to the presidency both McCain and Romney have given away any pretense at personal positions or beliefs.  Romney seems just like McCain of 2008 contradicting previous positions, making wild claims and generally throwing up anything his advisors tell him might move his poll ratings up a tick or two.

What a useless system.

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By heterochromatic, November 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm Link to this comment

Romney is certainly pandering to the rightists who vote in Republican primaries.
And Dr Cole is indeed correct that Romney, whom Cole notes is speaking in hope
of being selected to oppose Obama in election, is saying bad and untrue things
about Obama. This is very surprising and rarely occurs in American politics.

Also rare in American politics is for someone such as Romney to say things that
are untrue, and if elected, to disregard those things that he said.

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By omop, November 3, 2011 at 10:28 am Link to this comment

Mitt sounds like he is already hooked up to what Bibi wants according to this
report…....DebkaFile, the Israeli intelligence outfit which was recently proven
reliable again after it accurately predicted the end of the Libya conflict, reports
that Israel will step aside and let NATO powers carry out the attack if countries
like the U.S., Britain, France, Italy and Germany step up to the plate.

“DEBKAfile’s military sources report that if the US, Britain and other NATO
nations, such as France, Italy and Germany, participate in the attack, Israel will
not. Its army, air force and navy will defend the home front, be available to
engage Iran’s allies to prevent them from striking the assault forces from the
rear, and act as a strategic reserve,” states the report.

Google DEBKA for further info.

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By omop, November 3, 2011 at 8:18 am Link to this comment

Halloween Treat. 

Overheard….“Once we squeeze all we can out of the United States, it can
dry up and blow away.”
– Benjamin Netanyahu. A comment made by Netanyahu to Jonathan Pollard
(convicted traitor and spy) upon exiting Pollard’s jail cell.

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By prosefights, November 3, 2011 at 7:15 am Link to this comment

‘[a]rming them with the capability to attack Iran.’

“So we begin our coverage with a suggestion to read up on how the “UK military steps up plans for Iran attack amid fresh nuclear fears” which pumps up the idea that Iran already has nukes and might be inclined to use them.”

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, November 3, 2011 at 6:26 am Link to this comment

Imperial adventures often benefit at least some of the imperialized, at least some of the time.  This doesn’t mean they are without faults or problems.  One of these is what they do to the imperialists.  (The wars in Yugoslavia prepared the political way for the wars in the Middle East.)  In any case, the story is far from concluded in Libya.  A reasonable account of Libya would include these facts.  Cole’s abject handlicking is something else.  Perhaps he’s looking for a job.

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By S. Juniper, November 3, 2011 at 6:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

TruthDig will have to dig
considerably deeper to find
truth than this Obama puff

Aside from conning the clueless,
Obama has done nothing to
warrant my support. He clearly
sold out from the beginning and
has the temerity to presume my
support after callously
betraying us. Amazing that there
are still some gullible
‘liberals’ that still support

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By Peter Beacham, November 3, 2011 at 5:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Obama has had a string of foreign policy successes this year, especially in the Middle East. His special forces took out Osama bin Laden and he authorized a drone strike that eliminated al-Qaida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki.”

Since when has the murder of two people (three if you count Muammar Gaddafi) risen to the level of federal government policy?

This level of “policy” merely highlights that the U.S. is a failed state in its death throes.

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By BrooklynDame, November 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment

My goodness…with ‘leaders’ thinking this way, it’s no wonder that things haven’t
changed much in the Middle East.  Thank goodness people in the Silent Majority
are beginning to speak up; maybe resolution will come.

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By AMeshiea, November 2, 2011 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

Schell: “He was way wrong about Libya.”

Really. Pray tell how exactly?

Anarcisse: “Cole seems to have been bought by Mr. O. 
He wrote a repulsive panegyric on the goodness of the
Libyan intervention.”

Possible right on the Obama loving front. Irritating.
But the “repuslive pangyric” was spot on. Saved tens
of thousands of lives and has resulted in what is
very likely to be one of the only real democratic
Arab nations after Lebanon and Tunisia. Being a
Libyan myself, I can only lament the incessant
screams against the intervention, the only just one
that has worked, coming from those on the left.

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By David J. Cyr, November 2, 2011 at 6:56 am Link to this comment

Note how (D) corporate party hacks, like Juan Cole, who infest truthdig, have so many articles about the Republican candidates required to GOTV for the corporate party’s greater evil Democrats.

Liberals are (D) dedicated to ensuring that the corporate (R) & (D) party’s candidates be the only “electable” candidates — (D) dedicated to sustainable fascism.

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

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By Musashino Sanjin, November 1, 2011 at 11:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As regards the last sentence of this excellent article, was anyone surprised?

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By Silence is Complicity, November 1, 2011 at 8:09 pm Link to this comment

In this already ongoing cheap circus of political campaign, one can be assured that America will have another dirty show of scandals, backbiting, posturing, pandering and uncivil discourse. This will ensure that American will continue on its path of tainting and destroying its so-much bragged about democracy. The end result will be a continuous loss for America moral compass,as well as its economic and political power.

In this sea of losses, there will always be one winner only, and that winner is racist, colonialist Israel to which all candidates are sure to continue pandering both for Jewish votes and money as well as the Zionist power of blackmailing.

The case of Romney is just the standard for all candidates who will line up to bend over to their masters, the fascist rulers of tiny Israel. What an irony that such a tiny illegitimate entity has such powerful influence and control over the so-called greatest power in the world!!!

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By Inherit The Wind, November 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment

Actually, it seems like Mitt has decided he needs to “dumb down” to go after the GOP nomination.  Considering how morons like Perry and Cain are doing, and how a bat-shit loony like Ron Paul is doing, it may not be a bad idea.

The GOP LOVES numb-skulls, and even SMART people have to act that way (Think George HW Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain).  The last reasonably intelligent Republican candidate for President who did NOT act like an idiot up through election day was Jerry Ford.
Reagan, Bush 41, Dole, Bush 43, and McCain ALL acted like obnoxious morons during their campaigns.  But only Reagan and Bush 43 WERE morons.  That’s a pattern for 30 years.

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By Rodney, November 1, 2011 at 7:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have no idea why Mitt Rommney wants to be President other than he deosn’t have a life and has done everything that his money can buy. In 2008 he tried to buy the Presidency. He will say anything and I mean anything to get elected,even when it was just the opposite of what he said 10 years ago. I guess he didn’t have enough money to buy up all of the video tape of his contradictions. How can you trust a man who doesn’t trust and believe in himself? He was a grown ass man when he was for abortion and health care ,now the same grown ass man is against it? He spent his career laying people off and he is a job creator? Somebody needs to tell him to do what the rest of the rich white men with a lot of money do. Get a mistress and go play some golf. That way he can lie to his wife instead of to himself and the rest of America.

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By David Schell, November 1, 2011 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cole is a CIA sellout. I don’t give a crap what he has to say.
He was way wrong about Libya.

Drop him as any kind of useful authority.

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By Anarcissie, November 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment

Cole seems to have been bought by Mr. O.  He wrote a repulsive panegyric on the goodness of the Libyan intervention.

Meanwhile, it seems likely that Romney will be no more subservient to Likud than Obama or Bush 2.  Possibly no less, either, but there is no reason to single him out.

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By Roger Lafontaine, November 1, 2011 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

String of successes eh? Bin Laden had already been dead 5 years when he was ‘assassinated’ and Al-Alawki was nothing more than a mild-mannered religious zealot who came to believe, probably correctly too, that the ‘War on Terror’ was in fact a war against Islam itself. Does he get extra pts. for killing his 16 year old son too? The only success that counts is to bring a final settlement/peace between Israel and Palestine. Not even close to that. Not even trying really. Afraid the Israel lobby will turn on him.

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By tolstoy, November 1, 2011 at 10:36 am Link to this comment

This critique of Romney suggests positions of a potential GOP president a la George Bush etc. etc. that are not surprising. What surprises me is such an uncritical view of Obama—the unqualified reference to “string of foreign policy successes”—is there a wink here, a gleam in the eye, something to indicate the writer is not a propagandist for the Dems? For example, the reference to “the end” of the war in Iraq. No reference of the 5000 white faces (from paramilitary) that will be left in the streets additional to 17000 embassy employees. No reference to Muqtada’s views of all this. No reference to re-positioning to surround Iraq conveniently when violence breaks out anew. I’d like to see a more analytical view of the middle east versus this glib support of Obama as the alternative to Romnoid.

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By Blueokie, November 1, 2011 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

Obama vaporizes an American citizen without so much as an indictment, stops
Khaddafy’s massacre, then joins the European-Libyan oil grab, gives a pass and
rearms the client states of our client state Saudi Arabia in their quests to suppress
their people’s bid for participation,  “ends” the Iraq war, though he did everything
he could to extend it, repositions our armed forces all over the Middle East,
waiting for a pretext to reclaim Iraq, and acknowledged the Egyptian uprising only
after it was obvious Mubarak was through.  Then backs Israel’s expansionist
ambitions and its war on Palestinian civilians, while arming them with the
capability to attack Iran.  Too much more wise, insightful, progressive foreign
policy moves like this, and we could be thought even less of in the region while it
sets the world afire.  Thanks for the propaganda tripe from the Dim-ocratic arm of
the Imperialist Corporatist Party Juan.

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By balkas, November 1, 2011 at 8:08 am Link to this comment

iraq had been set up by evil empires. [league of nations;
comprised, in the main, of white and imperial countries].
iraq, self, had been an evil empire, but an enormously weak
one in comparison to nato. as such an easy target; resulting
in brilliant success for the empires.

by “brilliant success” i mean that the original plan—as
illated by me: permanent or for a long time de facto
dismemberment of and state of civil war in iraq, had been

as an evil empire, iraq, like any other evil empire [say,
chinese, russian, u.k, serb, french, u.s] cld only be
preserved by repression, torture, jailings, murder, etc.

thus, saddam/iraq govt/most sunnis have done
approximately what other evil empires have done and do
today and wld conitinue to do.

in case of iraq, palestina, tito’s yugoslavia, afgh’n, the evil
empires have already done much evil; which is amply
documented. tnx b b vancouver

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By EmileZ, November 1, 2011 at 1:29 am Link to this comment

The Residents - Final Confrontation

Happy Halloween Mr. Cole

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