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Romney's Version of Diplomacy: Insult Egypt, Paint the Developing World as Global Welfare Queen

The leaders at the Clinton Global Initiative barely applauded, but Romney's speech wasn't aimed at them; it was meant for the right-wing base and its billionaire donors.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Clinton Global Initiative

 
 
 
 

In his first major foreign policy address, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today laid out a vision for international development steeped in Tea Party ideology, and laced with contempt for the president of Egypt, a crucial partner in U.S. diplomacy, at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York. 

After his introduction by former President Bill Clinton, Romney quipped, "If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good.  After that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce."
 
The reference, of course was to Clinton's speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte earlier this month, with the inference that the candidacy of President Barack Obama was saved by the Clinton speech.
 
This article has been updated.
 
For his part, Clinton, ever the master of politics, noted, with effuse gratitude, Romney's support, while governor of  Massachusetts, for Clinton's big-government AmeriCorps program -- which House Republicans are  trying to kill through legislation introduced in July. Probably not going to win Romney a big bounce with the GOP base.
 
Following on his controversial remarks after the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, earlier this month, Romney's address today was widely viewed as a test of his foreign policy chops. Earlier this month, Romney falsely accused Obama of expressing sympathy for those who attacked the consulate and the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and then appeared via video at a religious-right gathering in Washington, D.C., that, as AlterNet reported, evolved into an anti-Muslim hate fest.
 
While he didn't directly repeat that claim, Romney asserted, "I will never apologize for America," echoing a false claim commonly made against Obama by all manner of right-wing talkers, including Romney.
 
The Muslim Brotherhood bone
 
While holding back from that level of heated rhetoric against the administration, Romney instead threw some red meat at his base by ticking off unfavorable developments currently faced by the U.S. in the Muslim world, listing among them the fact that "the president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim brotherhood."
 
Romney endorser Michele Bachmann has been conducting a witch hunt against members of the U.S. State Department and the administration, charging that the government has been "infiltrated" by members of the Islamist group -- a charge that Romney has yet to repudiate.
 
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is scheduled to address the same gathering later today.
 
Developing world painted as global welfare queen
 
In his remarks, Romney attempted to repackage the Obama administration's development policy as a global welfare program, a strategy that is all of a piece with the Romney campaign's advertising that promoted the lie that Obama sought to undo Clinton-era welfare reform by removing work requirements from welfare. 
 
In that case, Romney riled up his base by painting the administration's attempts at innovation, via waivers, to increase the numbers of welfare recipients in the workforce as the removal of work requirements. Here, before a room packed with world leaders and CEOs of international corporations, Romney discussed current U.S. development and diplomacy as less-than-business-friendly and unhelpful at putting to work the unemployed, despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Monday remarks to the gathering, where she focused on the administration's work with corporations and business-development organizations in developing nations around the world -- remarks Romney neither referenced or acknowledged.
 
Instead, Romney depicted U.S. aid programs as demanding nothing from recipient nations -- and trust me, no major power acts in that way with aid -- while, of course, he said he would, via a plan peppered with right-wing code words such as "Prosperity Pacts" (hear that, David Koch?) and "Reagan Economic Zones."
 
Foreign aid has long been a target of and anathema to the Republican right, a perennial punching bag, the better to court the nativist elements of the GOP base.
 
Ayn Rand would be proud
 
In Romneyworld, only nations that subscribed to the right-wing ideal of private enterprise, unfettered by regulation, as the savior of humankind, would receive development aid in a Romney administration. While the role of unemployment and the harassment of small-time merchants in corrupt nations is acknowledged by most foreign policy professionals as playing a role in fomenting anti-Western sentiment, Romney extended that critique by implying that current policy does not support the aspiration of common people in the Muslim world to work. 
 
All work, under any and all circumstances as Romney presented it, is the redeemer of all the evil in the world. After citing the tragic circumstances of the fruit-seller whose public suicide in Tunisia set off the demonstrations of the Arab Spring, Romney launched into this riff, which could have come out of an Ayn Rand novel:
 

Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike. Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women. 

 
Yeah -- tell that to the families of the coal miners who lost their lives in West Virginia, or the fishermen and -women on the Gulf Coast who still can't earn a living after the BP oil rig disaster.
 
Thud
 
As Romney's speech to the global village came to a close, the applause in from the audience was brief and perfunctory. A foreign policy expert texted me a single word: "Thud." But Romney's remarks were never intended for the global leaders and nation-builders in the room; they were intended to feed the resentments of the Tea Party crowd, the religious fanatics and the Paul Ryan acolytes who form the Republican base -- as well as the billionaire businessmen who bankroll the right-wing efforts to turn out the vote. And at that task, Romney did as well as anyone expected.

Adele M. Stan is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in covering the intersection of religion and politics. She is RH Reality Check's senior Washington correspondent.

 
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