In the 1980 presidential campaign, when Ronald Reagan raised the issue of whether people thought they were "better off" than they had been four years previously, one of the things he specifically asked them to consider was whether America was as respected throughout the world as it had been.
The answer then was "No." And, after Tuesday's tragic events in Libya and Egypt, the answer to that question is "No" once again.
The twisted minds behind the attacks on American diplomatic outposts are beginning to look like they were planned and coordinated by an international terrorist group. It is hard to argue they respect the United States and its value or are afraid of the United States' ability to project military power anywhere in the world. These terrorists—for that is what they are—do not honor our respect for freedom in any of its forms, including the freedom to worship as one pleases, or our time honored traditions of free of speech. That they would resort to such behavior, that they would storm the gates of a U.S. embassy, that they would kill members of the U.S. diplomatic corps including an ambassador, that they would haul down the American flag, suggests strongly that they are not afraid of reprisals. Which should give a clear indication of just how respected the United States is today in their eyes.
The administration's confused response in the early hours of the crisis—which included an apology to the hoards storming the embassy in Cairo—did not help matters. The White House and the State Department may be talking tough now but the initial response was feckless—perhaps because the president was so concerned with events at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte that he failed to attend the presidential intelligence briefings in the week before the attacks.
That might be excusable save for the fact that these attacks happened on September 11. If there is one thing we know about al Qaeda, they like to strike on the anniversaries of their previous attacks, meaning the administration should have been especially on guard over the last few weeks. Instead they appear to have been caught napping, as indeed they were when the transfers of power began in Libya and Egypt in the first place.
Nonetheless there are those, including my bloleague Peter Fenn here on Thomas Jefferson Street, who accuse the Republicans of playing partisan politics with foreign policy and are trying to shame them for it. They would prefer to focus on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's strong, forceful response to the events as having been premature and shooting from the hip. That Romney should have, for some reason, waited for the White House to have taken the lead and then fallen in line behind it.
Nonsense. If the attacks in Libya and Egypt, the murder of a U.S. ambassador and members of his staff do not deserve a strong response, then nothing does. Romney was right to call out the administration as well as the terrorists for their actions. The administration was wrong to respond so slowly and so weakly. The 3 o'clock phone call came, and the Obama administration failed the test.