Mitt Romney slams Obama's leadership. Sour grapes or serious charge?

On foreign policy issues including the Crimea crisis, the Obama administration failed to act when it could, Mitt Romney says in a new op-ed. A firestorm on social media has ensued.

Evan Agostini/Invision for NFL/AP Images
Mitt Romney arrives at the third annual NFL Honors at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday, Feb. 1, in New York. Romney slams President Obama for 'failed leadership' in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Monday, March 17, 2014.

Mitt Romney slams President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for “failed leadership” in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Monday. Tying together the Crimea crisis, Syria’s implosion, chaos in Egypt, and Iran’s nuclear progress, the 2012 GOP presidential candidate says the Obama administration failed to act when it could, and now that it can’t, officials are just blustering as things fall apart around the world.

“There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events,” Mr. Romney writes. “But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options.”

Romney then said that able leaders anticipate events and act in time to shape them. But current US officials haven’t done that.

“Their failure has been painfully evident: It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office,” Romney writes.

Here’s a translation of Romney’s message to the White House: I told you so, I told you so, I told you so. Remember when I said Russia was America’s primary geopolitical foe and you mocked me, saying the ’80s wanted its foreign policy back? Well, it looks like the ’80s out there right now, doesn’t it? But last I looked, it’s the 21st century. Vladimir Putin may not have a hot tub time machine, but he’s got the Crimea, right where he wants it.

This op-ed has lit a predictable firestorm on social media. On one hand, lots of folks are calling it sour grapes from a guy whose ability to predict and shape events apparently did not extend to winning a presidential election. On the other, lots of people are calling on Mr. Obama to admit that Romney was right and that Russia is our primary geopolitical foe, like it or not.

Also, there is lots of speculation as to whether this presages a Mitt 2016 run. That’s easy to answer: no. Leave it alone.

It may be part of an effort to rebuild Romney’s stature in the GOP, in part by knocking down Ms. Clinton, the Democratic 2016 front-runner. But that’s just our reaction.

Is Romney right? He’s not alone in his sweeping critique of Obama’s foreign policy, after all. The era of retrenchment and pivoting to Asia does not look like it is going well at the moment. As the United States leaves Afghanistan and Iraq (without status of forces agreements allowing a vestigial US military presence), America’s adversaries seem to be pushing back all over the world.

The New York Times – the definition of “mainstream media” – ran a long piece on Sunday examining the challenges to Obama’s strategy of caution. It quotes Condoleezza Rice, secretary of State under President Bush, saying that five years of stressing that others need to share America’s geopolitical burden have taken their toll.

The vacuum left by US retrenchment has not been filled by allies or international organizations, according to Ms. Rice. “But what has filled that space has been brutal dictators; extremist forces, especially in Iraq and Syria; and nationalism,” she told the NYT.

It’s easy to say things have gone wrong. It’s much harder to say credibly how you might have set them right. And Romney’s op-ed is notably short on proposed alternative actions, other than the assertion that any actions should have been done sooner, or at least been better timed.

White House communications adviser Dan Pfeiffer pointed this out on Twitter, calling the op-ed “vacuous.”

“safe to assume this isn’t a 2 part piece where all the solutions come next?” Mr. Pfeiffer tweeted.

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