Mitt Romney opened up his big mouth, unable to stop himself from taking political advantage of diplomatic strains being caused due to the case of the blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng. Chen, who'd fled to the US embassy in China was released after the Chinese government made assurances. But the Chinese government is not holding up their end of the bargain. Mr. Romney saw a political opportunity to attack the President on this, even as he deals with this volatile situation with potentially an entire family's lives at risk, and said this:
“We’ve heard some disturbing things from across the world that suggest that, potentially, if the reports are true, some very troubling developments there,” Mr. Romney said. “If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.”Once you get past all the if-it's-true's and the potentially's and the probably's and may have's that Romney is using to cover his backside, it's not hard to see what he's doing here: accusing the Obama administration of lying to the dissident in order to protect diplomatic relationships with the world's most powerful communist regime.
The reports suggest that “our administration willingly or unwittingly communicated to Chen an implicit threat to his family, and also probably sped up, or may have sped up, the process of his decision to leave the embassy because they wanted to move on to a series of discussions that Mr. Geithner and our secretary of state are planning on having with China,” he continued. “It’s also apparent, according to these reports, if they’re accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would assure the safety of Mr. Chen and his family.”
Except that the thing did just blow up in Mitt Romney's face. The dissident journalist, Mr. Chen, reached on the phone, had the following to say:
“I left the U.S. Embassy on my own free will,” Chen told a Washington Post news assistant who reached him by telephone shortly after midnight. “I wasn’t tricked into leaving. If I didn’t want to leave, I could have stayed, and no one would have forced me to leave.” [...]“The U.S. Embassy helped me a lot,” Chen said. “I really appreciate their help. They did a good job. But I don’t think the Chinese side is obeying the agreement well.”I'm sure a profuse apology from Mitt Romney is forthcoming. Right? Riiight.
For sure, this is a diplomatic problem right now. But just as assuredly, the government of President Obama clearly acted with the utmost integrity, on the side of free speech. Even inside China, the US embassy gave shelter to Mr. Chen, as we would expect of the United States, and only after Mr. Chen was satisfied with the Chinese authorities was he released. He faced no pressure. Right now, the problem is arising from the Chinese government reneging on the commitments they made, not from anything the United States did.
Let's look at this through the prism of judgment as well. A president's ability to reach judgment can be just as crucial as his or her ability to defer judgment until all the facts are in. This is especially true in international relationships and delicate diplomatic situations. Mitt Romney could not hold off on running his mouth on unsubstantiated media reports for 48 hours. How is it that we expect him to be able to hold his cool in international negotiations sure to face the next president far more intense and far more delicate than this case?
But maybe Mitt Romney did have a calculation here. Not a presidential one, but a petty political one. Maybe he figured out that the media rumors he was basing his attack on were likely to collapse like the house of cards they were. So, he decided to use them to get the dig in before they do collapse. And at the same time, when it did collapse, he could blame in on the rumors rather than his judgment to run his mouth based on those rumors.
There is a reason it has been the American tradition to give the President of the United States some space in international affairs before people start jumping down their throats. It is that often it takes time to get things right, and even more often, the goal of the United States is often hurt by petty political attacks on the president based on rumormill information. Americans have observed this regardless of the president's party. But recently, that space seems to have collapsed. Perhaps it's because Barack Obama is so often effective and right on foreign policy that the Republican nominee knows that he needs to score political points before the rumormills are shut down.
Mitt Romney is wrong. And Mitt Romney is more interested in scoring political points than in the success of American diplomacy.