Romney's First Foreign Policy Test: Fail.
The last 48 hours have displayed the best and worst in American handling of urgent foreign crises.
Secretary Clinton and President Obama are deftly handling a crisis caused by idiots. Romney and certain Republicans – but not all (to their credit) have chosen politics over patriotism.
An absolutely horribly produced movie was posted to YouTube in July by a convicted fraud in California. We know how movies like Passion of the Christ insulted Jews, and we know how Life of Brian and Last Temptation of Christ insulted Christians – although I’m not aware of these movies inciting riots, murder, and international crises. But then neither of those movies clumsily accused their central deity figures of being murderous pedophiles. The movie itself was shot on a budget reaching into the dozens of dollars, and the actors were completely duped – none of them had any clue they were filming a movie defaming a major religion’s prophet. They’re understandably horrified that the movie resulted in riots that led to the deaths of American diplomats in Libya.
And about those riots in Egypt and the murders in Libya – they are inexcusable and unacceptable. Secretary of State Clinton said all the right things and hit the right tone:
We must be clear-eyed even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scared by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Some Libyans carried Chris’s body to the hospital and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. Last night when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible.
The friendship between our countries borne out of shared struggle will not be another casualty of this attack. A free and stable Libya is still in America’s interest and security. And we will not turn our back on that.
President Obama had this to say:
There was controversy, however, thanks to the shoot-first-aim-later reactionaries in the GOP. Chief among them, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who broke a 9/11 campaign truce to release a hit piece on Obama after 10pm that day.
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.
At precisely midnight 9/12, RNC Chair Reince Preibus Tweeted, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”
But the statement of “sympathy” that Preibus and Romney are criticizing didn’t come from Obama. It came from the diplomatic staff in the American Embassy in Cairo well before the actual rioting began as an effort to prevent it. They were trying to calm a bad situation, unfortunately it didn’t work. But Obama didn’t write it, nor did he condone it.
There should be “civilized demonstrations of the Egyptian people’s displeasure with this film,” the Brotherhood spokesman said, according to the newspaper Web site. “Any nonpeaceful activity will be exploited by those who hate Islam to defame the image of Egypt and Muslims.”
Bracing for trouble before the start of the protests here and in Libya, the American Embassy released a statement shortly after noon that appeared to refer to Mr. Jones: “The United States Embassy 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.” It later denounced the “unjustified breach of our embassy.”
Apparently unaware of the timing of the first embassy statement, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, put out a statement just before midnight Tuesday saying, “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.” Mr. Romney also said he was “outraged” at the attacks on the embassy and consulate.
As Andrew Sullivan points out, the Romney camp’s vicious criticism of Obama while an international crisis was still going on wasn’t just based on a lie and tone-deaf in every way, but it’s indicative of the fact that Romney is simply unfit to govern. Romney’s 3am call resulted in shooting from the hip without having even a small amount of the facts.
Predictably, the conservative reactionary commentariat is outraged, likening Obama to Carter (?!) and heaping scorn and derision on the entire Muslim world as being a bunch of clumsy medieval murderous barbarians.
Because, evidently, that’s how you handle international incidents – you dehumanize the enemy, turn them into something unfit for life. Even though some semi-intelligent cretins yelled “fire” in the most crowded theater in the world.
- 7:35 p.m. ET: Reuters confirms that an American consulate staffer has been killed in Benghazi. This staffer is later identified as Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith.
- 10:09 p.m. ET: The Romney campaign issue a statement from Mitt Romney himself condemning the Obama administration for the Cairo embassy’s repudiation of religiously insensitive speech. It falsely suggests that the Cairo embassy’s condemnation came in response to the attacks in both Egypt and Lybia.
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 statement is embargoed — meaning the press cannot report on it — until midnight, Sept. 12 — the moment the Obama and Romney campaigns’ Sept. 11 truce is scheduled to end
- 10:10 p.m. ET: An Obama administration source disavows the U.S. embassy in Cairo’s statement of condemnation to Politico.
- 10:25 p.m. ET: Without explanation, the Romney campaign lifts its embargo on Romney’s statement and it becomes public.
- 10:44 p.m. ET: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the attack in Benghazi.
I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.
This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.
Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.
In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.
- Just before midnight ET, the U.S. embassy in Cairo removes some its tweets, from both before and during the protests, condemning religiously offensive speech. It does not remove one posted at 4:29 p.m. ET: “3) Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry.”
- 12:01 a.m. ET: Just as the campaigns’ Sept. 11 detente ends, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweets, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Unlike Romney’s statement, Priebus’ tweet is silent on Libya.
- 12:09 a.m. ET: The Obama campaign fires back. “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said, in an emailed statement.
It’s absolutely unbelievable. Romney has found almost no support whatsoever among elected Republicans, most of whom condemned the attacks without throwing political bombs. In fact, they went on the record criticizing the President for attacks that were still taking place at the time. in response to Romney’s disgusting criticism, President Obama said,
There’s a broader lesson to be learned here: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later and as president one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. It’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.
Weird, because the Romney campaign issued a bunch of talking points to surrogates that included:
Questions & Answers:
Don’t you think it was appropriate for the embassy to condemn the controversial movie in question? Are you standing up for movies like this?
– Governor Romney rejects the reported message of the movie. There is no room for religious hatred or intolerance.
That’s sort of exactly what the Cairo embassy wrote before the rioting began. Isn’t that what Romney was criticizing them and Obama for? In any event, Romney seems quite pleased with himself.
To Republicans who are trying out the meme that attacks on American diplomatic missions are reflective of a perceived weakness,
June 14, 2002, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide bomber kills 12 and injures 51.
February 20, 2003, international diplomatic compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Truck bomb kills 17.
February 28, 2003, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Gunmen on motorcycles killed two consulate guards.
July 30, 2004, U.S. embassy in Taskkent, Uzbekistan
Suicide bomber kills two.
December 6, 2004, U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Militants stormed and occupied perimeter wall. Five killed, 10 wounded.
March 2, 2006, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide car bomber killed four, including a U.S. diplomate directly targeted by the assailants.
September 12, 2006, U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria
Gunmen attacked embassy with grenades, automatic weapons, and a car bomb (though second truck bomb failed to detonate). One killed and 13 wounded.
January 12, 2007, U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece
A rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the embassy building. No one was injured.
July 9, 2008, U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey
Armed men attacked consulate with pistols and shotguns. Three policemen killed.
March 18, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Mortar attack misses embassy, hits nearby girls’ school instead.
September 17, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Militants dressed as policemen attacked the embassy with RPGs, rifles, grenades and car bombs. Six Yemeni soldiers and seven civilians were killed. Sixteen more were injured.
Possibly this explains what’s going on in the brazen, party-first, country-last GOP: