Romney's Fear of an Emboldened Planet

Mitt Romney has a few favorite words he uses as a crutch when he can't think of anything actually bad to say about President Obama.

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Mitt Romney has a few favorite words he uses as a crutch when he can't think of anything actually bad to say about President Obama. Romney has lots of favorite words. "Energetic" is how he describes female political allies of dwindling popularity, like Nikki Haley and Sarah Palin. "Congratulations," the New York Times points out, is what Romney says to voters in response to just about any personal fact they tell him. And "embolden" is his description of what President Obama does to foreign leaders via his "incompetence." What these words have in common is that they are ways of saying something without saying anything.

Mitt Romney condemned "in the strongest possible terms" North Korea's failed missile launch Friday, but he also condemned Obama for having "no effective response."  Romney said in a statement that Obama had tried to "appease" the North Korean regime with food aid, but that didn't work. "This incompetence from the Obama Administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and our allies." While many analysts agree that it's hard to work with an irrational country that's willing to starve its people in order to finance stunning displays of propaganda and embarrassing displays of failed military strength. (A third of North Korean kids are "permanently stunted" because they haven't gotten enough food. In some areas, people are rationed only 150 grams of cereal a day.) So, perhaps it's no surprise that the well-being of its citizens wouldn't be the top priority in the diplomatic negotiations. But what was truly surprising was that North Korea didn't act in the bad faith observers have become accustomed to. As Council on Foreign Relations' Scott Snyder told the Los Angeles Times, "What is perplexing is that they left benefits on the table… Normally they would cash in on the agreement before reneging."

The word embolden means "to instill with boldness or courage," and if anything analysts are most surprised that North Korea hasn't pronounced its spectacular failure as a massive success. (That would be in keeping with its bold statements.) But Romney uses the word so often, in so many places, that we're starting to think that he doesn't really care what it means. It just sounds good to his speechwriters. We've emboldened his favorite word in a few examples:

  • March 6, 2012: Romney gives a speech to AIPAC saying, "The current administration has distanced itself from Israel and visibly warmed to the Palestinian cause. It has emboldened the Palestinians. They are convinced that they can do better at the UN – and better with America – than they can at the bargaining table with Israel." Obama's mistake, Romney said, was that "a clear message has been to warn Israel to consider the costs of military action against Iran." After 10 years of war in the Middle East, we don't might just considering the costs of such military action.
  • January 20, 2012: When Texas Rep. Kay Granger announced she was backing Romney, his campaign issued this statement from her, “It is time we had a conservative leader who will restore our country’s standing in the world. President Obama’s reckless foreign policy has not only failed, it has emboldened our enemies."
  • December 7, 2011: In a speech to Republican Jewish Coalition, Romney said, "In his inaugural address to the United Nations, the President chastised Israel, but said little about the thousands of Hamas rockets raining into its skies. He’s publicly proposed that Israel adopt indefensible borders. He’s insulted its Prime Minister. And he’s been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran." (The Obama administration had successfully pushed for another round of sanctions against Iran in November.) "These actions have emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table."
  • October 7, 2011: In a foreign policy speech, Romney asked listeners to imagine the country in four years, and a future emboldening of enemies. "What kind of world will we be facing? ... Will those who seek Israel's destruction feel emboldened by American ambivalence? Will Israel have been forced to fight yet another war to protect its citizens and its right to exist?" 
  • September 23, 2011: In an editorial published in the National Review and co-written with former Sen. Norm Coleman, Romney said, "First, President Obama has picked fights with Israel over policies that were properly the subject of negotiations between the parties themselves. Then, when he summarily announced in May that the indefensible 1967 lines should be the starting point for resumed negotiations, he threw Israel under the bus and emboldened the Palestinians to raise the ante even more."
  • August 19, 2011: Romney told voters, "It has taken President Obama far too long to speak out forcefully against Assad and his vicious crackdown in Syria. In the early stages of this crisis, the Obama Administration referred to Assad as a ‘reformer,’ which had the effect of emboldening Assad and discouraging the dissidents. America must show leadership on the world stage and work to move these developing nations toward modernity."
  • January 25, 2012: And sometimes, it's Obama himself who gets emboldened. A Romney spokesman said of his candidate's primary rival, "Newt Gingrich borrowed talking points from Barack Obama and the SEIU on illegal immigration and used them to attack Mitt Romney’s conservative approach... This is who Newt Gingrich is: an unreliable leader who undermines conservatives, hurts our party, and emboldens President Obama and his liberal allies.” 
National Journal's Michael Hirsh reported in March that on foreign policy, "Romney has assembled prominent advisers, but he now adopts views that even they are uncomfortable with. He calls Obama a dangerously weak president abroad, but Robert Kagan, his neoconservative foreign-affairs adviser, has indicated he’s comfortable with much of Obama’s program (the president has adopted the thesis of Kagan’s latest book, The World America Made)." The tone of Romney's statement on North Korea, NBC News' First Read says, adds to "a growing perception in serious foreign policy circles that Romney is willing to say anything, no matter how knee-jerk, to try to get an upper hand on these issues." But it's not that Romney will say anything, it's that he'll say only one thing. Going through Romney's foreign policy speeches, you see the word "embolden" so much its meaning starts to slip away.
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