Romney's amateur comments on Libya

Last modified: 9/14/2012 12:00:00 AM
Barack Obama defeated John McCain in 2008 in part because plenty of people feared how the pugnacious and mercurial senator would react in an emergency that called for diplomacy, not bombs.

The demented attacks on America's embassy in Egypt and consulate in Libya, and Mitt Romney's hasty and hyperbolic response to them, raises similar questions about the Republican presidential candidate's fitness to govern. Romney's condemnation of the Obama administration, at a time when American lives had been lost and its embassies were under siege, calls his judgment and ability to guide foreign policy into question.

The protests, which continued to spread through the Muslim world yesterday, were a response to a bigoted and amateurish movie that portrayed the prophet Mohammed as, among other things, a drunken child molester.

The reaction to the American-made film, given the barbaric response a few years back by Muslims incensed over a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed, was violent and predictable. Tragically, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed by suspected militants.

Before the facts were in, Romney, sensing an opportunity for political gain, used a message posted by the Egyptian embassy to attack the Obama administration.

"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," Romney said in statement issued shortly after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks. Romney went on to repeat his familiar, and deceitful, allegation that the president repeatedly "apologizes" for America.

Romney got his facts wrong. So, by the way, did a New Hampshire newspaper that, in a front-page editorial, repeated the false assertion that the embassy message apologized for the movie and the president apologizes for the United States. The latter charge, though pasted firmly in the Republican playbook, is a lie, one thoroughly debunked by fact-checking organizations and responsible media outlets. Obama has never apologized for America's actions. Nor was the embassy's Twitter message an apology. Here it is.

"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."

The message, which was crafted under duress as protesters circled the embassy, was an attempt by the besieged staff to defuse the situation and prevent violence. It didn't succeed. The embassy was mobbed several hours after the message was posted.

The message contained no apology and instead, celebrated two American values, freedom of speech and tolerance for the religious beliefs of others. In fact, it was very similar to the 2006 message the Bush administration issued in a response to the publication of the cartoons depicting Muhammad "We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive," that message said.

Steve Schmidt, McCain's senior adviser during his 2008 campaign, aptly summed up on CBS news what Americans want of a leader in a crisis. "The American people, when the country is attacked, whether they're a Republican or Democrat or independent, want to see leaders who have measured responses, not leaders whose first instinct is to score political points." That leader, this week, was not Mitt Romney.

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