Political Animal


May 01, 2012 3:26 PM Fallows Barbecues Romney on Carter Slur

By Ed Kilgore

In his reaction to reminders of his 2007 statement suggesting a pursuit of Osama bin Laden was a waste of time and money, Mitt Romney suggested the decision to pull the trigger on the operation was such a no-brainer that “even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”

This got the attention of Washington Monthly alumnus (and former Carter speechwriter) James Fallows, who took Mitt to the woodshed in a column for The Atlantic:

Jimmy Carter is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who spent ten years in the uniformed service of his country. As far as I can tell, this is ten years more than the cumulative service of all members of the Romney clan. Obviously you don’t have to be a veteran to have judgments about military policy or criticisms of others’ views. But when it comes to casual slurs about someone else’s strength or resolve, you want to be careful, as a guy on the sidelines, sounding this way about people who have served.
Jimmy Carter did indeed make a gutsy go/no-go call. It turned out to be a tactical, strategic, and political disaster. You can read the blow-by-blow in Mark Bowden’s retrospective of “The Desert One Debacle.” With another helicopter, the mission to rescue U.S. diplomats then captive in Teheran might well have succeeded — and Carter is known still to believe that if the raid had succeeded, he would probably have been re-elected. Full discussion another time, but I think he’s right. (Even with the fiasco, and a miserable “stagflation” economy, the 1980 presidential race was very close until the very end.)
But here’s the main point about Carter. Deciding to go ahead with that raid was a close call. Carter’s own Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, had opposed the raid and handed in his resignation even before the results were known. And it was a daring call — a choice in favor of a risky possible solution to a festering problem, knowing that if it went wrong there would be bad consequences all around, including for Carter himself. So if you say “even Jimmy Carter” to mean “even a wimp,” as Romney clearly did, you’re showing that you don’t know the first thing about the choice he really made.

Since Romney in particular and Republicans generally keep trying to make this election a rerun of 1980, they’d probably do well to get their facts a little straighter about Jimmy Carter (and while they are at it, about Ronald Reagan the serial tax-hiker).

UPDATE: At Ten Miles Square, Mark Kleiman also gives Romney a good roasting:

The only reason I can think of for Romney to say what he said is that the statement, as he made it, is obviously false, and Romney is addicted to lying. We know what Jimmy Carter would have done, because we know what he actually did do, under parallel circumstances: allow himself to be talked into going in without enough resources, risking having to scrub the mission if three out of eight helicopters failed (compared to a predicted two out of eight). Obama, by contrast, personally insisted on what turned out to be the essential extra chopper going into Abbotabad.
Moreover, of course, while making the final call was indeed dramatic, the key moves that Obama took - and Bush didn’t take - involved putting in motion the machinery that got us to the place where the final call was there to be made. Obama got bin Laden because Obama wanted to get bin Laden. There’s no evidence on the record that any of the Republicans - Bush, McCain, or Romney - shared that desire.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Danp on May 01, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Clinton also made a tough decision when he bombed Bin Laden's camp. Bush made a tough decision when he ignored advice to assault Tora Bora. Has there ever been a decision that Romney has made that defined him?

  • Robert on May 01, 2012 3:40 PM:

    Romney is going to give his thumbs up on the D-Day invasion Wednesday.

  • stormskies on May 01, 2012 3:45 PM:

    He is also of the age to have been drafted during the Viet-nam War. And he, like chicken hawks Cheney and Nugent and others like them, found there ways to not be drafted. Cheney Romney bought their way out, Nugent pretended to be crazy.

    Cheney, Romney, and Nugent are the types that if they did in fact go to Viet-nam would have been killed, but not by those that we fought.

  • stevio on May 01, 2012 3:48 PM:

    Mitt's ham-fisted attempt at caustic humor aside, Jimmy Carter was the most ethical and moral president this country has had in many a presidency.

    The anology Romoney should have used to show what "any president" would have done was Reagan's sordid deal to sell arms to the ayatollah to pay for guns to arm the Sandinistas. What he should have said was that what Reagan did any president would have done thereby satisfying the low information voting block, the NRA, the Koch's, Murdoch, Wolf Blitzer, Limbaugh, John King, Ace McCain, PALINaroundwithterrorists and the complete cast of Morning Joe which should re renamed: mourning Joe...

    That event would have been more in line showing just how strong a president can be. It must have been a truly brave call arming Iran to pay for guns used to slaughter lots of poor central american people. I guess BUSHit did him "one-up" by carpet bombing Bagdad's civilian population during Shock and Awe. Right up there with Saddam gassing his own.

    I'm glad Mitt likes these kinds of people. A true patriot and people-oriented candidate that one...

  • mudwall jackson on May 01, 2012 3:53 PM:

    i think i'll have my mitt carolina style, smoked, with a nice vinegary sauce and slaw on top.

    well said mr. fallows.

  • Sean Scallon on May 01, 2012 3:53 PM:

    Jimmy Carter did make that decision and it cost him the election. Obviously Obama was much luckier and it may well put him over the top. But that's all he was, lucky. The raid was filled with just as much peril as Desert One and if had failed, Obama would be behind in the polls right now. Now I don't begrudge the Obama campaign from throwing away its best issue to use this campaign but everyone should keep in mind the line between success and failure in politics is a pretty thin one, especially when depends upon other people than yourself.

    Hell, George Bush I won a damn war and lot fat good it him. Keep that in mind also.

  • Anonymous on May 01, 2012 4:00 PM:

    to @Sean Scallon: not luck at all. Obama clearly weighed the information and made the call based on it. Not luck.

    Meanwhile re Carter's failure with his effort to rescue the hostages was at least partly due to Reagan's back channel dealing with the Iranians which in the long run encouraged them to hold out until he could win the presidency to release them. Almost as stinky as Kissinger's running off to Paris to undo the upcoming peace talks on Vietnam.

    Look it up.

  • mudwall jackson on May 01, 2012 4:00 PM:

    stormskies on May 01, 2012 3:45 PM:

    "He is also of the age to have been drafted during the Viet-nam War. And he, like chicken hawks Cheney and Nugent and others like them, found there ways to not be drafted. Cheney Romney bought their way out, Nugent pretended to be crazy."

    pretended? i think nugent has proved beyond all doubt that he's absolutely positively nuts.

  • dalloway on May 01, 2012 4:22 PM:

    I've always thought the Bushies didn't want bin Laden caught -- pretending to ignore him was just the cover story. Administration pal, Saudi Prince Bandar "Bush," via his wife was almost certainly financing bin Laden, making it exactly one degree of separation between the Bush-Cheney Administration and the 9/11 terrorists, fears of whom kept them in office for eight years. If bin Laden had been caught, the fear would have been greatly diminished, along with their hold on power.

  • internet tough guy on May 01, 2012 4:31 PM:

    I'm sure Obama is terrified at the idea of Mittens implying he would let the hostages fester in Tehran rather than try to rescue them.

  • Sean Scallon on May 01, 2012 4:35 PM:

    "not luck at all. Obama clearly weighed the information and made the call based on it. Not luck."

    I'm sure Carter thought he had good information too. And no doubt listening to "Chargin'" Charlie Beckwith's pitch for the mission would have sold anyone. Not to mention the pressure that was on Carter to do something. Planning the mission was not Carter's responsibility, it was to make the decision one way or the other and he decided to make it a go. It was no less bold than any other Presidential decision: Bay of Pigs, Grenada, Desert Storm, the OBL raid you name it. It didn't work and U.S. soldiers died in the process. Success or failure is a razor's edge and wherever you fall determines a lot in history.

  • Ron Byers on May 01, 2012 4:45 PM:

    I am sure Mitt thought he was being cute with his Carter comment. He was playing right into the standard Republican meme about Jimmy Carter. Rush would have said the same thing. That the meme is a lie is of no consequence to wingnuts and those who enable wingnuts like Romney.

    What clear from what Mitt said is that he wants to be President of the wingnuts, not President of the entire United States. In that regard he is just like John Boehner who has proven to be Speaker of the Republicans and not of the whole House. Party over all.

  • SecularAnimist on May 01, 2012 4:48 PM:

    Mitt Romney is an asshole. It really is as simple as that.

  • Daddy Love on May 01, 2012 4:59 PM:

    Everything we know about Mitt Romney says he's incredibly risk-averse and would NEVER make a tough or dangerous call.

  • jrosen on May 01, 2012 5:05 PM:

    "chicken hawks Cheney and Nugent and others like them, found there ways to not be drafted. Cheney Romney bought their way out, Nugent pretended to be crazy."

    Did he have to pretend?

  • citizen_pain on May 01, 2012 5:19 PM:

    Jimmy Carter was way before his time and he suffered for it. He foresaw the oil wars and began taking steps to wean ourselves off foreign fossil fuels. He even installed solar panels at the WH. He was mocked for telling Americans to put on a sweater and turn the thermostat down. Sure the military mission failed, but was Reagan's treason with the Ayatollah some sort of triumph?

    In 1980 Americans had a choice. Listen to the grown up, and grow up ourselves. We faced real tough choices at a time when action could have made a real difference in our lives today. Instead, we went for a B-Movie actor who told us what we wanted to hear. We took the easy way out. And look where that has led us. 30+ years later and our republic is coming apart at the seams, thanks to the people who put Reagan in charge and ushered in the era of greed is good.

    If America lasts another 100 years, Carter will be vindicated, and the likes of Mitt Romney will be kicked to the curb of history.

  • TCinLA on May 01, 2012 5:22 PM:

    Every time that lying, service-avoiding over-privileged COWARD opens his mouth, I think how happy I'd be to see him get what he deserves. How come it's the Kennedy's who get assassinated and never one of these scum whose loss would improve things?

  • N.Wells on May 01, 2012 5:40 PM:

    Romney gives every appearance of being a lying, contemptible, obnoxious, unprincipled, coward, and I am furious about his comments. Whether you agree with it or not and despite its not working, Carter clearly made a courageous call, and Mitt's insult to him is contemptible. Even worse is the lie that of course he would have made the same call as Obama: he went on record as criticizing Obama's willingness to go into Pakistan after bin Laden, and saying that bin Laden wasn't worth a whole lot of effort, so he clearly lacks the judgment and courage to have made any of Obama's chain of decisions that led to getting bin Laden. The man lies through his teeth with ease and clearly has no sense of honor or judgment. Guiliani's part in this travesty is no better.

  • Citizen Alan on May 01, 2012 6:00 PM:

    The awful truth which dare not be uttered is that Romney would never have tried to kill Bin Laden anymore than Bush or McCain would have. Since 1999 at least, Al-Qaeda has had no greater friend in all the world than the GOP. Republicans ham-strung Clinton's efforts to oppose Al-Qaeda in the late 90's. Republicans shut down anti-terrorism units in 2000-01 and reallocated the funding to fighting prostitution in the French Quarter. Republicans ignored "Bin Laden Planning to Strike Inside U.S." Bush himself snidely said "alright, you've covered your ass" to a subordinate desperately trying to get him interested in Bin Laden just a month before 9/11. Republicans pulled troops out at Tora Bora to let Bin Laden escape. Republicans diverted troops and funding to fuel Bush's idiotic war in Iraq. Bush said on tape that he didn't think catching Bin Laden was important and then denied he'd said it during a presidential debate. McCain said he didn't think killing Bin Laden was important. Romney said he didn't think killing Bin Laden was important.

    And when Obama took him out, Republicans wept bitter tears at the loss of their friend, their ally, their partner in the ongoing destruction of America.

  • Doug on May 01, 2012 7:53 PM:

    When one realizes that the ONLY policy Republicans have is to get elected, all that wasn't done to get Bin Laden becomes clear - he was more valuable to the GOP alive than dead.
    While Bin Laden lived, the GOP could gut the Constitution, start wars, and hand out pork to political allies, while crying "Treason!" at anyone who even slightly disagreed with their methods, let alone their aims.
    What's interesting is that the GOP so demonized Bin Laden, that the man who DID accomplish his death may be re-elected because of that action.
    I believe the word is karma...

  • schtick on May 01, 2012 8:34 PM:

    Amazing that the tealiban doesn't want to hear about Obama getting OBL, but if he had failed, it would be main topic for the next 30 years just like Carter's failed attempt.

  • PQuincy on May 01, 2012 10:06 PM:

    Kleiman's assessment of Romney hits the nail on the head: the Romney campaign, starting with its headliner, is simply addicted to lying. Not necessarily in the sense that they actually enjoy lying (though there's precious little evidence that they find it in the least unpleasant). But rather because they simply will say whatever they think might gain them some tactical political points, with willful disregard for whether what they say bears any resemblance whatsoever to the truth. Worse than that: they will say whatever echoes with current right-wing memes. They are comfortable with some memes that are very very far out there, like their happy obfuscation on the birther issues, as well as their more mainstream lying, for example about the President's alleged (and non-existent) 'apologies' to the world.

    The fundamental feature of all of their public statments, though, regardless of the situation or occasion, is complete _disinterest_ in whether what they say is true. I take my opening comment first: Kleiman is too generous. Such consistent selfish disregard for the truth is not simply an addiction to lying: it is a key marker of genuine sociopaths.

    Romney makes me scared for my country -- more, not less, than Santorum or even Gingrich, in retrospect.