It’s one thing to go to London and screw it up, insulting the American’s greatest ally day after day. It’s a whole other thing to tread heavily and stupidly in Arab/Western relations, carelessly tossing match after match into the tinder.
I feel strongly about this. I have friends working throughout the Arab and Islamic world, on relationship building, civil society issues, and on political relations and capacity building.
Romney would make their work far, far more difficult if not impossible
In 2006 I did some work with NDI in Pakistan, working on communications practice with a range of parliamentary parties.
After several days of meetings and workshops in Lahore, I spent a day wandering around that very engaging and beautiful city, taking in the sights and getting a feel for this rather otherworldly place.
Walking down the main drag I came across one of the few western institutions with a presence in Pakistan – the local KFC. It was closed, but freshly painted, ready to open and in the process of repair.
Months earlier it had been the target of a mob protesting the publication of an anti-Islamic cartoon in a Danish newspaper. Several people had died in the riot. The KFC was torched.
It was the handiest western target that night. Bad luck.
Later that trip I got lost in the market in Peshawar. I know, not a very smart thing to do. But a cleric from the mosque rescued me and invited me to share a cup of tea. It didn’t take him long to ask “why do you in the west hate us?”
Crazy to a complacent westerner. But not so much to someone with even a cursory knowledge of Islamic/western relations in the middle and far east. Colonization, partition, mass killings, arbitrary borders that make no geo-political sense, shifting alliances, sell-outs… the list of “issues” with western nations is almost endless.
There are reasons many of these places are tinderboxes. It doesn’t take much to set it off. A smart leader treads carefully in this world, especially if they want to change the relationship for the better.
Romney, maybe channeling Barry Goldwater during the cold war, tossed another match when cold water was needed.
In the short term, Romney’s stumbling, almost-endorsation of a stupid piece of anti Islamic trash was an unnecessary play in an already dangerous situation.
In the long term he has helped add a card to the diminished hand of anti-western forces in the Islamic world, setting back the work of moderates.
I notice that today Romney’s surrogates are saying this would never have happened on his watch. Pathetic. The truth is that his stumbling, incautious approach would mean that these kinds of incidents are more likely to happen over and over again.
Can you imagine him in charge of western/Islamic relations? I can’t.