Mitt Romney smirks as reporters keep hammering away at why he thought it was OK to criticize US diplomatic personnel for trying to keep from being killed in Egypt last night.
Jumping on an urgent diplomatic statement coming out of the US Embassy in Cairo last night, as it was facing a worsening crisis that eventually led to an attack on the embassy, Romney claimed the Embassy statement, which was asking for calm and expressing understanding with Muslims, was a "disgraceful" apology "which is inconsistent with the principles of America."
In another attack on a US embassy last night, in Benghazi, Libya, four US diplomatic personnel, including the ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, were killed in sharp fighting that erupted as heavily-armed protesters (or terrorists posing as them) pushed onto the embassy grounds.
Some background on this somewhat complicated, and incredibly ridiculous (and nevertheless tragic) story, details of which are still unfolding:
The protests were initiated as Muslims in Egypt and Libya reacted with great anger to an anti-Islamic movie, uploaded to YouTube, and reproduced with Arabic titles and comments in a number of different versions. The movie, entitled Innocence of Muslims, was initially reported to have been produced by a Jewish American or an Israeli named Sam Bacile, but this afternoon that part of the story has reportedly collapsed, and a number of media outlets are now saying Bacile was a pseudonym for the movie's real producer, whose name has so far not been released.
Some versions of the movie on YouTube refer to the movie as having been made by, or to express, the anti-Islamic views of "Copts" or Christians. And in fact, it appears now the actual producer of the movie may be an American evangelical Christian. The Atlantic is quoting Sam Klein, allegedly a consultant on Innocence of Muslims, as saying about the people who made the movie: "Nobody is anything but an active American citizen. They're from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, they're some that are from Egypt. Some are Copts but the vast majority are Evangelical." The Atlantic notes that Klein's assertions are being taken, at this point, "with a grain of salt", as most claims about the production of the movie seem quite sketchy.
What isn't debatable is the quality and content of Innocence of Muslims, a cheaply made, poorly acted, piece of buffoonery, which unquestionably contains material that is intentionally and deeply insulting to Muslims.
For example, one scene depicts Mohammed negotiating with his men before attacking a city to determine how many children in the city would be sexually assaulted afterward by the victorious Muslims. Any children surviving the ordeal, Mohammed tells them, can be sold into slavery to make money to buy more weapons.
Many Muslims in Egypt and Libya, influenced by news reports in their countries concerning the YouTube videos of the movie, have been led to believe that the US government had something to do with the making of the film, and many protesters expressed outrage that American Christians would think and depict such terrible things about Muslims. Of course most Americans were completely unaware of the film's existence until today.
The intense rage built up amongst Muslims over the movie and exploded yesterday in the assaults on the US embassies. Last night, reacting to the building crisis, the US embassy in Cairo, put out a statement:
"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."This statement, reportedly released before the attack on the Cairo embassy occurred, clearly was intended to try to quell the anger before it spilled over. Later, the Cairo Embassy, reacting to the protests, and subsequent attacks, reiterated its earlier statement, but also issued a condemnation of the "unjustified breach of the Embassy".
At 10:24pm last night, after it had been confirmed by Secretary Clinton that at least one US diplomat had been killed in the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya, Romney released the following statement (The New York Times reports originally Romney had asked media outlets not to run his statement until midnight—after 9/11—but changed his mind, apparently when it was reported on Politico that the White House was disavowing the first Cairo embassy statement):
"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."While criticism of US foreign policy, even in a time of war, is to be expected from an opponent of the president in a political campaign, many pundits and journalists today have questioned the timing and nature of Romney's criticism of the American diplomats and President Obama, suggesting it may point to an essential lack of readiness to be president on Romney's part.
Asked about this today, and if he had "jumped the gun" on criticizing Americans trying to actually conduct foreign policy, Romney said:
Simply put, having an embassy, which has been breached and has protesters on its grounds, having violated the sovereignty of the United States, having that embassy reiterate a statement, effectively apologizing for the right of free speech, is not the right course for an administration.
Effectively, what Romney was saying was that the US Embassy in Cairo, and President Obama, were "disgraceful" for condemning, instead of supporting, Innocence of Muslims.
Other Republican leaders today refused to follow Romney's lead, and instead voiced their concern for the victims and their families, and had no criticism for President Obama.
The difference in tone and apparent concern between the two candidates in speaking of the developments in the last 24 hours in the Middle East was striking. President Obama issued a somber, and much more personal statement today, talking about the courage and commitment of US Ambassador Stevens, and the other diplomatic personnel still dealing with the situation.