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Obama has bungled foreign policy

By Richard Williamson, Special to CNN
updated 6:56 PM EDT, Mon October 8, 2012
Richard Williamson says President Obama resisted imposing crippling new sanctions on Iran.
Richard Williamson says President Obama resisted imposing crippling new sanctions on Iran.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Richard Williamson: Despite criticism of Romney on foreign policy, Obama's record flawed
  • He says Obama took too long to push crippling sanctions for Iran; Romney would have sooner
  • Writers cited bin Laden's death on Obama's watch, but that's hubris, Williamson says
  • He says administration let guard down on al Qaeda; Libya killings are tragic consequence

Editor's note: Richard S. Williamson is a senior foreign policy advisor to the Mitt Romney campaign. He is a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and served as ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

(CNN) -- In this space, Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense under President Barack Obama, and some of her colleagues attacked a recent Mitt Romney opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

In their piece, entitled "Romney's empty foreign policy agenda," they hurl all sorts of tired accusations at the Republican nominee. They even recycle a trope used by Democrats against Ronald Reagan and other successful Republican presidents, that Romney employs "cowboy rhetoric." Yet even as they condemn the Republican nominee for wrapping himself in "platitudes and falsehoods," they offer a remarkable demonstration of some of the serious problems afflicting Obama's stewardship of America's role in the world.

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Let us scrutinize some of their points.

Opinion: Romney's empty foreign policy agenda

On Iran, they assert that there are "zero actual policy differences" between Obama and Romney, citing the president's policy of sanctions.

But what they neglect to say is that Obama resisted imposing the kind of new, crippling sanctions that are necessary to stop Iranian nuclear efforts for much of his presidency. Today, Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than ever before.

What they also conveniently forget is that Obama, saying he did not want to "be seen as meddling," at first issued no more than cursory objections during the Iranian spring of 2009, when dissidents took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest a stolen election.

A President Romney would never abandon our basic principles of supporting freedom and democracy in this way.

Flournoy and company point proudly to the fact that Osama bin Laden is dead "on the president's watch." They are right to be proud of this, as are all Americans. But when they say that "more al Qaeda senior leaders have been taken off the battlefield than at any time since 9/11," they run the danger of hubris. And hubris has been one of the defining characteristics of the president's foreign policy.

Alas, we saw a tragic demonstration of the consequences of hubris just this past September 11, when four Americans -- including our ambassador -- were murdered in a terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Perhaps believing its own rhetoric about the decimation of al Qaeda, the Obama administration let down its guard about the significant striking power of al Qaeda's remnants, affiliated and otherwise.

Certainly, the inadequate protection given to our diplomatic personnel on September 11 -- the anniversary of the terrible attack -- is a spectacular piece of evidence that their judgment was skewed. Even worse, after the attack on Benghazi, the Obama administration appeared to be so desperate to believe that al Qaeda was not responsible that it pinned the entire episode on the spontaneous rage of a crowd provoked by an obscure video on the Internet. It clung to this version past the point of decency. But it was false. American intelligence agencies have made it clear that our citizens were killed in a terrorist attack launched by an al Qaeda affiliate.

Flournoy's assertion that Obama "has effectively managed the tumult of the Arab Spring" would be laughable if the consequences of his lack of effective management were not so tragic.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard Williamson.

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