Sunday, October 21, 2012

Romney Politics On Benghazi Attack Ignores 24-7 Demands Of US Diplomacy

Ambassador Chris Stevens gave his life for a principle: sometimes you have to risk getting killed to do a proper job of diplomacy, especially in a dangerous place like Libya. Contrary to the idea that Stevens was begging for security resources the State Department refused him, Stevens reportedly did not like working with the restrictions imposed by security protocols. Indeed, his trip to Benghazi, where he had even less security than usual, illustrates this attitude.
When the Benghazi compound of US Ambassador Chris Stevens was attacked by terrorists a little over a month ago, it took Mitt Romney, armed with no intelligence resources but a retinue of propagandists, almost no time at all to determine what had happened and to assess blame:
"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."
And that was before we had even learned of what had happened to Ambassador Stevens, and three other Americans, in Benghazi.

Of course, no US official had done what Romney claimed. So anxious was the Republican nominee to score some political points by appearing to be on the far-right (nut) side of events in Libya on September 11th, Romney didn't care whether had the facts straight, or that he had any facts at all. So enmeshed in dishonesty as the first policy is Romney's campaign, all they needed was the gall to actually accuse American diplomats (and by implication the executive, President Obama) of betraying their mission.

For what its worth, the facts, and their context are as follows:

Prior to any American diplomatic missions being attacked that day, the US Cairo embassy had, rightly, affirmed that the US government did not support the views contained in the highly offensive anti-Islamic video, Innocence of Muslims. Why did the US government make that affirmation? Because part of the buildup to the 9/11 protests against the film was the assertion by some Muslims that the US government had a role in producing Innocence of Muslims.

Therefore, it was the diplomatic thing to do for the Cairo embassy to publicly reject that idea.

The idiotic thing to do would have been to react as Romney and Republicans decided to do.

Their rhetoric soon turned from Obama was sympathizing with "those who waged the attacks", to Obama was betraying the First Amendment by refusing to support the makers of the imbecilic movie against the protests of thousands of Muslims outraged by the film's message.

As Romney himself said:
"I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values."
Now, let's understand something. The Cairo Embassy statement contains no apology for anything. In order for there to be an apology, after all, the US government would have to be accepting some responsibility for the making of Innocence of Muslims, which is precisely the opposite purpose of the statement they made that day. All the Cairo Embassy was doing was expressing solidarity with Muslims who might, very reasonably, take offense at a stupid pile of racist trash:
"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."
But that's just the point. Many Americans, and it is safe to say a vast majority of those are Republicans, see no problem whatsoever hurting the religious feelings of Muslims. Mitt Romney has made explicitly racist statements talking about the cultural superiority of Judeo-Christian cultures as opposed to Islamic cultures. In the same way, Romney imagines there is a moral and cultural basis to the economic success of rich people in the USA versus poor people—the rich have the superior values he says.

Thus, in that insane right-wing view of things, what the Cairo Embassy should have been saying that day to the offended Muslims is—"Get over it, crybabies. We have free speech, and that video is funny anyway!"

But, the White House, actually being responsible for US diplomatic relations in Libya, and elsewhere in the world, understood that Republican political jingoism, which invited snap public judgments about what had happened and whom or what to blame for it, was counter to US interests.

As a number of people noted at the time, the idea of a US Embassy is to provide an outreach in the host country to promote those interests, and it is not supposed to be an armed fortress in which to hide American ambassadors. Chris Stevens well understood the risks of going to Benghazi, where security concerns had been heightened over the weeks prior to the attack on the US compound.

However, as one report about Stevens' attitude towards his job noted (here talking about his experience in Israel):
"[Stevens] was deeply frustrated with security regulations that confined his activities. 'He wanted that human contact, he wanted to be able to speak to Palestinians on the street, and he couldn't because security regulations made him always travel in armored vehicles…He used to talk about how he felt this was an obstacle to his ability to really be who he wanted to be.' ''
Who Stevens wanted to be, was an effective US diplomat, in one of the few places in the Muslim world, Libya,  where many of the people do not feel a natural enmity for America, but the opposite. To treat these incipient friends of the USA as if they were suddenly all enemies, which Republicans recommended should be done, would have been irresponsible to an actual diplomatic mission.

However, as US embassies become nothing more than military and intelligence bases for potential US strikes against an ever-growing list of alleged bad guys, diplomacy is an art rapidly losing any significance. And the general public's understanding of diplomacy and its risks is negligible at best and Republicans take advantage of that.

If Mitt Romney takes over command of US diplomatic missions, we can expect a return to the disastrously anti-diplomatic bluster of the Dubya years, when the world's view of the USA went right into the abyss.

Of course, in the cultural-dregs-locales that bleed so Republican-red in the USA, being hated by the world is considered a virtue. That such an attitude is fundamentally anti-American is just beyond these voters' interest and understanding.

Educated and reflective people, on the other hand, may process a little differently this ridiculous, and in many ways insidiously self-destructive debate about Libya.

We shall see tomorrow night what brand of rhetoric Romney decides to bring to the debate on foreign policy. Let us just say, Romney didn't get labeled Mitt the Twit for nothing It was on account of his diplomatic skills.

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