Steve Chapman

But in the aftermath of the violent protests this past week, Romney's campaign reverted to type. "It's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," he said. His chief foreign policy adviser, Richard Williamson, insisted the demonstrations erupted because "the respect for America has gone down, there's not a sense of American resolve."

Really? So why was there a wave of fierce anti-American protests across the Middle East in 2003, as President George W. Bush was preparing to invade Iraq? The State Department was so alarmed it advised Americans to avoid 17 different countries across the region and beyond.

Our diplomats have nothing to fear when we're strong? Under Bush, there were violent attacks on American embassies in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India and Turkey. A U.S. diplomat was assassinated in Sudan. Another was murdered in Pakistan.

Those are not proof that Bush was weak or even wrong in his foreign policy. They are proof that the president of the United States is not the Lord of the Universe. Even if he does everything right, nasty developments will ensue.

Certainly they did under Reagan. A U.S. Army major carrying out routine monitoring in East Germany, as allowed under a U.S.-Soviet agreement, was shot to death by a Soviet sentry. An American reporter was arrested on phony espionage charges in Moscow, forcing Reagan to negotiate to get him released. A barracks in Beirut was blown up, killing 241 American military personnel.

But somehow, these episodes did not discredit Reagan among conservatives or the broader public. The embassy attacks likewise won't trump all the other things Obama has done.

The claim that the GOP represents strength against a president who is fatally weak and uncertain has worked for Republicans before. If the Democrats ever nominate Jimmy Carter, it might work again.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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