An American Ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens is dead. Three other Diplomats – Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and another whose name has not been released – are dead. They were killed in a raid on the American Consulate in Libya after a pastor in Florida posted a insensitive and inappropriate video mocking the prophet Mohammed. This raid was an attack on America by disgusting and deplorable people and, at a time like this, it is critical that Americans, and our allies, stand united. But that’s not how Mitt Romney and RNC chair Reince Priebus saw it. They saw it as an opportunity to criticize the President in a political attack that was, at best, dishonest and ignorant.
Courtesy of the Talking Points Memo blog, here’s what happened. On September 9, a scene from the anti-Muslim film “The Innocence of Muslims” was shown on Egyptian television. Given the timing to the 9/11 anniversary and the absolutely offensive material contained in the video, the United States Embassy in Cairo posted the following statement at 6:17 AM EST on September 11:
The Embassy of the United States 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. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Note the time here. 6:17 AM. Well before any attack and, in my opinion, a completely appropriate, balanced and important statement. It’s not apologizing for America. It’s making a statement about what America believes and taking the stand that tearing down the beliefs of others is not who we are. Around the same time peaceful protesters were gathering outside the Embassy in Cairo and the statement, it was hoped, would help to ensure there would not be violence. Hours later some protesters scale the walls of the Embassy and burn an American flag. The invasion is quickly contained the Embassy sends out a statement condemning the breach. Later, at 5:41 PM EST, and shortly after pastor Terry Jones announced he would be showing the film that evening, an attack begins on the US Consulate in Libya. We learn in the subsequent hours that several Americans have been killed in that attack.
Romney’s response is to release the following statement at 10:25 EST on 9/11 (violating the embargo on campaign attacks on that date):
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.
Preibus follows with a tweet at 12:01 AM on 9/12 (at least it wasn’t on 9/11) that reads “”Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”
Here’s the problem – the attack happened AFTER the Embassy released their statement and, in fact, after the attacks occurred, new statements were released condemning them in no uncertain terms. The Romney campaign saw this as an opportunity to further their “Obama likes to apologize for America” narrative and, rather than stand with the President and those who were attacked, chose to make it political. It is shameful. It is disgusting. It is dishonest. It is wrong. But don’t take my word for it. Congressional Republicans have refused, almost to a person, to back up Romney’s attack and many foreign policy experts, conservative ones, have criticized his response. And, the decisions he made, are markedly different from the choices made in time of crisis by two former Republican Presidents. If Romney wants to join them as Presidents, he better get a handle on when to attack and when to show unity. That judgement is something this man is severely lacking.
However, let’s assume, for a moment, that everything Romney and Priebus said was actually the truth. How much more powerful would it have been if, instead of releasing a negative statement or holding a press conference in the moments before Obama was scheduled to speak on the issue, he had done something different. Imagine if he had called the President and said something like “I’m with you today and will do whatever I can help us show a unified front. Would you like me to come to your press conference so we can stand together and say that, no matter our political differences, we mourn the loss of these courageous Americans and stand united in our condemnation of those who seek to do us harm.” If Obama declined the offer, he would come off as playing politics. And, if he accepted, Romney would be seen as a thoughtful and honorable leader who puts his country first. Instead he chose to lie and, in so doing, came across as someone truly unfit to lead.