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A political press without perspective

 

"The sacrifices that our troops and our diplomats make are obviously very different from the challenges that we face here domestically but like them, you guys are Americans who sense that we can do better than we're doing....I'm just really proud of you."

-- President Obama talking to volunteers for his re-election campaign in Las Vegas, comparing them to slain Americans in Libya.

Foreign policy punditry is a lot like economics. It's not necessary to be right, only to have an interesting explanation for why you're wrong. And when all else fails, just say that it's complicated.

Most of the leading lights on foreign policy in both parties heralded the wave of revolutions that have swept through the Arab world for almost two years. Admirers call the movement the "Arab Spring," and cast it as a social-media-inspired youth movement.

The same movement, though, led to the murder of four American diplomats in Libya this week, including our ambassador to that country's fledging government. The same movement also has reopened the possibility of another Arab-Israeli war. The same movement also has expanded the influence of the rouge state Iran throughout the region.

The foreign policy establishment says these are ripples in the wave toward democracy and liberty in the region. Yes, they say, the Islamists are in control in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, but these are the good Islamists, or at least the less bad Islamists.

Maybe, or maybe not. Most of the good news from the past two years has been the avoidance of several possible disasters and there are many potential disasters still looming.

So, is the world's worst neighborhood going through a painful gentrification process or are these gang wars symptomatic of urban decay?

Who knows? But in foreign policy, there are no wrong answers, only poorly phrased ones.

The foreign policy establishment freaked out this week when Mitt Romney went on the attack over Internet posts from the Obama administration's embassy in Cairo that showed sympathy with the motivation of the mobs that still assail American outposts in the region. The shocked indignation was because Romney did not speak in the opaque language of the business in making what was a narrow attack on Obama.

The political press followed suit and then amplified the freak out and today we have, even as the riots continue and the revolutionary movement approaches a fateful crossroads, an amazing amount of hyperventilation over comments by a presidential candidate over Internet postings made by a diplomat on Monday.

Romney may have erred by seizing on the apologist comments from Cairo, but the truth for Romney is that he will never be able to win with the political press. "He's attacking too much!" "He's not attacking enough!" "He's short on specifics!" "He needs a simpler message!"

The political press is obsessed with process and therefore campaigns would do well to ignore the political press as much as possible.

Would Romney have even taken such a gap shot on diplomatic Twitter talk if he and his campaign were less concerned with the incremental world of spin cycles? Likely not.

In the modern era of political journalism, no subject is too small to be obsessed over. At the dawn of the Politico era, it was about which candidate was winning the week. Then it was about winning the day. Now it's about winning the news cycle, which is about six hours long and shrinking.

Both campaigns get sucked into this kind of thinking, but it's Romney who has the most to lose for doing so. The press corps has an Obama lean and has already crafted a narrative about Romney bumbling. Trying to appease the media beast won't work.

Most Americans have been happily ignoring the Arab world after being forced to pay such close attention for so long. With U.S. troops out of Iraq and though, Americans finally feel excused for going back to disregarding the region again.

They see reports on the news about the deteriorating situation across the region and the tensions between Iran and Israel and can happily think that there are no American troops on the ground there and that the ones across the way in Afghanistan are slowly heading home. Somber reporters tell them why they must care, but aside from rising gasoline prices, there's little that convinces Americans to invest themselves in a part of the world mostly known for endless, never-resolving conflicts.

But when an ambassador gets killed and the crowds are chanting for death to the American infidels, voters suddenly take notice.

This is a big moment in the campaign. It tests Obama's premise of encouraging the revolutionary movement in the region. It tests whether Romney can present a clear articulation of his foreign policy as events are unfolding.

But what Romney said about a deleted tweet is not a big moment. While he will pay a price for opening up another cascade of "Romney gaffe" headlines, it is a thing of no long-term significance.

Rather than freaking out about the latest micro-burst coverage cycles, politicians and the reporters who cover them would do well to try to keep things in perspective.

And Now, A Word From Charles

"I think the substance of what Romney said was absolutely right. The problem he needs to make a larger argument. There is a collapse of Obama policy. It began with the Cairo speech. It began with the apologies to Iran. It began with regret for the Iraq war. It began with the so-called outreach, and it's completely collapsed. It has gotten nowhere on Iran. These are the fruits of appeasement an apology.

[Romney] should make a general speech, not attack here and there, but a speech explaining and connecting all the dots. That's what a candidate ought to do and to leave attacks to surrogates and to Ryan."

-- Charles Krauthammer
on "Special Report with Bret Baier

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.