American Values and Foreign Policy

One of America’s values and traditions is standing together in the face of foreign attack or challenge. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has violated that tradition by attacking the statements of the American Embassy in Egypt’s condemnation of an anti-Muslim film made in California: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

Following news on September 11 of American casualties at an American consulate in Libya, Romney’s foreign policy advisers recommended that he speak out against the government’s apologies. He issued the following statement:

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

The next day Romney pressed his attack further, saying that, “I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. An apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

Romney was apparently not aware that the American Embassy’s statement on September 11 had been issued before the tragic death of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans in Libya. Christopher Stevens was a fraternity brother of mine from the ATO house in Berkeley, though we were not there at the same time and I have never met him. President Obama in fact condemned the killings and according to the Washington Post: “unnamed White House officials told news outlets later Tuesday night that the [Egyptian] embassy statement did not reflect U.S. government views.” That is a pity because it does reflect American values and should reflect U.S. government policy.

Since neither Romney nor Obama seem to understand what American values are in this context, I am volunteering a refresher course.

We believe passionately in free speech and tolerance of the views of others. This is far from accepting anything someone might say. It is hardly the same thing as condoning insulting or ignorant things people sometimes say. Sam Bacile’s “The Muhammad Movie” is crude and disgusting. It deserves to be condemned and the Egyptian Embassy was quite right to apologize for it. Terry Jones, the hate mongering, Koran burning, so-called Christian minister in rural Florida has been promoting the film. Real Christians should condemn him, while at the same time acknowledge his right to state his twisted views.

Our values were reflected, for example, when many Christians complained that Andres Serrano had received $15,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (a government agency) for his photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of urine without questioning the artists right (at his own expense) to do such things. Although the artwork was condemned by many as an affront to Christians, mobs did not storm the gallery that planned to show it nor the NEA. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is one of the few to get the balance about right: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/post/hillary-clinton-speaks-out-for-the-same-american-values-upheld-in-retracted-embassy-statement/2012/09/13/ccbf05f2-fdd6-11e1-b153-218509a954e1_blog.html

Standing together in the face of foreign attacks does not mean that we cannot or should not criticize foreign policies that we think do not service the best interests of our country.  But wise and thoughtful people know when the timing is right for such serious discussion. The present moment of grieving for our lost brothers and sisters is not a time for divisive political maneuvering. Romney’s foreign policy advisers have given him bad advise before (think Israel/Palestine. See my earlier blog: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/romney-on-culture/). Romney should fire them.

About wcoats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My most recent book is One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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1 Response to American Values and Foreign Policy

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