The Attacks On U.S. Ambassador

Ken AshfordElection 2012, Foreign Affairs, Middle East, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Well, it's ugly no doubt.  As you probably know by now, families are in mourning, and the diplomatic corps is dealing with the tragedy of four Americans — including the U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — being killed in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  It is the first time a U.S. ambassador has been killed in 33 years.

Obviously, there will be political questions to be asked — about the protection, but also about our policies in Libya and Egypt.  But Romney was quick out of the gate with an obscene criticism of Obama, issuing a statement which said in part:

“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.”

That's pretty harsh, except…. well, it's totally untrue.  When asked to explain what he meant by "Obama's first response", the Romney campaign pointed to a statement from the US Embassy in Cairo issued a statement “condemn(ing) the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” — referring to the anti-Muslim movie allegedly inflaming the demonstrators, rioters, and attackers.

Can we pause for a moment?  How is that an apology from the Obama people?  What exactly is wrong with that statement?

But ignoring content, you should know that that statement was issued before the attacks on the diplomatic missions, and wasn't a response at all. The Washington Post helpfully passes along the actual first response to the attacks from the Obama administration:

“I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “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.”

….She added that although the United States “deplores” any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, “there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Screwed it up again, Mitt.

Romney was joined by Sarah Palin (not surprising) and RNC chairman Reince Preibus, who couldn't resist tweeting this last night:

Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.

Fortunately, other Republicans were able to be, well, civil and not try to score political points. I'm sure the wingnute will call thise people "RINO wimps":

[N]o Republican leader criticized President Obama on Wednesday morning, and called instead for stronger security at U.S. diplomatic facilities, the swift capture and punishment of the perpetrators and a renewed commitment to pro-democracy efforts in the Arab world.

“We mourn for the families of our countrymen in Benghazi, and condemn this horrific attack,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement….

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) usually reserves his morning Senate floor remarks to sharply criticize Obama administration policy. But Wednesday he struck a more somber tone and expressed support for “employing every available tool at our disposal to ensure the safety of Americans overseas and to hunt down those responsible for these attacks….

Even Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — a troika that regularly critiques the Obama administration’s foreign policy — urged Obama to continue supporting democracy efforts in Libya and Egypt.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are attacking Romney for his gross faux pas:

"It’s deeply unfortunate when the circumstance of the statement becomes the story," said Rick Perry's former foreign policy adviser, Victoria Coates, who is now an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and who suggested that Romney should simply have "gone earlier rather than save it for midnight" to avoid appearing to play politics on September 11. "It’s unfortunate that it’s playing out this way, and hopefully they can get back on message, because their point is sound," she said.

Other conservatives were less sympathetic.

"It's bad," said a former aide to Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "Just on a factual level that the statement was not a response but preceding, or one could make the case precipitating. And just calling it a 'disgrace' doesn't really cut it. Not ready for prime time."

A third Republican, a former Bush State Department official, told BuzzFeed, "It wasn't presidential of Romney to go political immediately — a tragedy of this magnitude should be something the nation collectively grieves before politics enters the conversation."

Gotta hurt.  And then there's Mark Halperin:

Unless the Romney campaign has gamed this crisis out in some manner completely invisible to the Gang of 500, his doubling down on criticism of the President for the statement coming out of Cairo is likely to be seen as one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign.