The advent of a fresh wave of terrorist attacks, which the Obama administration attributes to the wildly offensive "Innocence of Muslims" trailer, has caused foreign policy to once again become a big part of the Election 2012 conversation.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that this could simply be a protest that spun out of control; it was too well coordinated. While the film may have given impetus to the attack, it likely provoked existing militant terrorist organizations, as opposed to moving the ordinary, peaceful citizens of Libya to violence. This is a problem that existed beforehand and will continue to exist if we allow it.
Every action needs a reaction and this attack requires a response, regardless of where the attack originated. While I feel inclined to disagree with the President regarding the origins of the attack, I do think his proposed course of action is more sensible than Romney’s.
In the wake of the attack on the American embassy in Libya, Obama vowed to catch the terrorists, but remain on peaceable terms with the Libyan government, emphasizing his administration’s respect for religious freedom. While I find this to be a fair and measured response, I am anxious to see just what form it will take; it could easily lead to another—albeit probably necessary—foreign entanglement. Still, if we choose to take the President on his word—always a risk in politics—he’s at least going into the situation with the appropriate course of action in mind.
Here is where Mitt Romney comes into play. Romney argues that if he were President, something like this would not happen. Romney accuses Obama of “appeasing” hostile foreign entities and invokes the Machiavellian doctrine of fear as a political tool—the theory of provocative weakness—claiming that if he were at the helm of foreign policy, these people would “know their place."
In another era such an attitude would not be without its merits. One country could simply invade another, hostile armies and governments could be crushed. Through warfare, a message could be sent—a message that ultimately boils down to “We are not to be messed with.”
Our situation diverges from this hypothetical in two significant ways, however. First of all, we are not confronting national armies. Instead, the enemies are members of private organizations who can scarcely be found, much less attacked and strong-armed into seeing things our way. Secondly, if we presuppose that the Muslims terrorists are sincere when they cite religion as their motive, then we can assume they do not fear death. A bomb is not going to scare them straight.
In short, the President is right. The attackers need to first be found and then destroyed. An excessive display of force would not only set back our steadily improving foreign relations, but also most likely fail.
Romney might argue that such a power play would pressure other nations into doing a better job of fighting terror within their borders. Maybe, but this messy and indirect approach guarantees us neither justice for the deceased, nor safety in our future.