Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Hubris of Romney and Obama


Mitt Romney, whose bid to unseat Barack Obama looks more desperate every day, senses he’s found a weakness in his rival. In a foreign-policy speech the other day, he blasted Obama over the upheaval in the Arab world, saying, “This is a time for a president who will shape events in the Middle East.”

Romney is making two claims: that Obama has failed to shape events in the Middle East and that he, Romney, will succeed.

Could the hubris of a man seeking power be plainer? Does anyone with even a minimum ability to think clearly believe that Romney could “shape events” there?

We have many reasons to distrust power. One is that it inevitably violates individual rights through the legalized use of aggressive force against peaceful people. The naked power of tyrants is obvious; but the governments of democratic republics also aggress against their subjects, for example, when they tax them to provide subsidies and bailouts and launch offensive wars.

It is no surprise that power attracts the sort of unsavory people who see themselves as qualified to wield it. In a different context Adam Smith wrote that power “would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. “

”Folly and presumption” seem apt words for anyone who proclaims that he can shape events — that is, people’s lives — in the Middle East.

Romney is not the only presidential contender displaying folly and presumption. Obama (along with his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton) apparently has no trouble believing that he too can control events in the Arab and Muslim world. There’s no other way to explain the unwise things he’s done.

The irony is that the current turmoil in the Middle East is the result of decades of U.S. government (and before that, British) attempts to manage that part of the world — attempts that continue to this present moment.

No one should be surprised at the lethal assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11. When the Obama administration decided last year to back the resistance to (former U.S. ally) Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, critics warned that no one could be sure of what the rebels’ post-Qadaffi intentions were or that the arms provided by the U.S. government would not end up in the “wrong hands.” It was widely reported that elements of al-Qaeda were members of the U.S.-backed resistance. Obama ignored the warnings (while killing a Libyan al-Qaeda leader in a drone strike in Pakistan), and on September 11 heavily armed rebel forces attacked the consulate and safe house, killing the ambassador and three other U.S. personnel.

In Egypt a violent demonstration took place at the U.S. embassy, aggravating concerns over the country’s new president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is no fan of the U.S. government. Did this animosity come out of the blue? Of course not. U.S. presidents backed brutal Egyptian dictators for decades. When the popular uprising against the last one, Hosni Mubarak, occurred, the Obama administration initially voiced support for him. Clinton called him a family friend. Only when his ouster was inevitable did Obama abandon him — throwing U.S. support to his torturer-in-chief as his successor.

Under such circumstances, did anyone expect the Egyptians and President Mohamed Morsi to feel friendly toward the U.S. government?

U.S. attempts to manage the Middle East did not start last year. The intervention has been continuous, from the backing of the establishment of Israel in 1948 over the objection of the indigenous Palestinians, to the CIA-run overthrow of a democratically elected secular prime minister in Iran in 1953, to the support of a 1968 coup in Iraq that eventually led to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, to the continuing support for oppressive monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, and elsewhere.

And now the Obama administration is intervening in Syria, as it did in Libya, on the side of rebels, including members of al-Qaeda, who are trying to bring down dictator Bashar al-Assad. Will anyone be surprised when heavily armed forces attack the U.S. embassy in Damascus after Assad is gone?

The “folly and presumption” of Romney and Obama disqualify them both for office.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., and author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Visit his blog “Free Association” at Send him email.

This article was originally published by the Future of Freedom Foundation.


Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017