For decades Republicans have tried to paint Democrats as weak and ineffective on foreign policy. This goes back to attacks on the United Nations, “Who lost China?”, overuse of the word “appeasement,” and more. When Barack Obama—a non-white man named after a Kenyan father and raised for a few years in Indonesia—became President, the Republicans naturally thought they could paint him as too quick to compromise with other nations.
The problem with that line of attack is that President Obama is forceful and effective on foreign policy. Indeed, many observers felt that he has a stronger record there than domestically, in large part because he hasn’t faced so much interference from the Republicans in Congress. If a Republican President had been in office when the US government helped remove Osama bin Laden or Muammar Qadaffi, the party would have gladly run on that fact. Instead, they have to run against a President who oversaw both those events.
The Republicans tried various ways to mount their usual foreign-policy attack: lies about an “apology tour,” about “vacillating” whenever the President studied a situation, and so on. This critical stance sometimes required reversing positions 180° in two weeks (Newt Gingrich), talking tough about Qaddafi two years after talking amiably to Qaddafi (Lindsey Graham), or dashing away from press questions until the party consensus formed (Mitt Romney).
After fatal attacks on American diplomatic sites in Cairo and Benghazi on 11 September, the Romney campaign perceived an opportunity to bring out the picture of a Democratic President as a weak. But Romney’s initial statement and press conference the next day hurt his standing. Rather than showing him as forceful, they showed Romney to be ignorant, hot-headed, and exploitative.
Republicans retreated for a while, then concocted a new way to raise the same accusation. Even though Romney had exemplified the pitfalls of speaking too rashly on the 11 September attacks, he and his supporters complained that the Obama administration was too slow to describe the Benghazi attack as planned. In their desperation, some Republicans even claimed officials had conspired to mislead the public about that event.
Romney formulated his party’s claim on 25 September: “That’s an act of terror. But the White House doesn’t want to admit it.” As Zack Beauchamp pointed out at Think Progress, that was the first time Romney himself had used the word “terror” in connection to the Benghazi attack. And in fact, President Obama had called that an “act of terror” back on 12 and 13 September. But neither his friendly hosts on FOX News nor any of his advisors warned Romney that he was wrong.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones wrote of the Republicans:
I suspect they're caught up in their own echo chamber, the same one that insists Obama wants to take your guns away and has spent the past four years apologizing for America. But the more they dive into the conspiratorial weeds on this, the worse they look to ordinary Americans who don't really mind that President Obama waited a few days to sift through the evidence instead of going off half cocked within a few hours.Adam Serwer added:
…thanks to their penchant for cherry-picking information, the GOP left their presidential nominee on stage with his mouth agape, struggling to understand how something he knew for a fact wasn't a fact at all.Romney and his team had come to believe their own lies. So when Romney wound up to repeat it during the debate, President Obama could sit and say, “Proceed, Governor,” wait a few seconds, and then snap, “Get the transcript.” Moderator Candy Crowley stepped in to confirm Obama’s statement—which caused Republicans to whine that she was biased.
Actually, this was one of many recent cases of the facts having an anti-Republican bias. That situation will remain as long as the party is in the grip of OIP Derangement Syndrome.