The obvious responsible thing to do when American citizens and public officials are under physical threat abroad and when the details are unknown, and events spiraling, is to stay silent. If the event happens on the day of September 11 and you are a candidate for president and have observed a political truce, all the more reason to wait to allow the facts to emerge. After all, country before party, right? American lives are at stake, yes? An easy call, no?
But that's not what the Romney camp did. What they did was seize on a tweet issued by someone in the US Embassy before the attacks in order to indict the president for "sympathizing" with those who murdered a US ambassador after the attacks. Unfuckingbelievable. Here's the embassy statement from earlier in the day that set off the neocons:
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 statement came from someone in the embassy, and was not formally issued by the State Department or the White House, both of which have subsequently disavowed the tweet for not also defending absolute freedom of speech. The facts were still murky last night. But the Romney campaign immediately tried to shoe-horn yesterday's fog of mob violence into the "apology" rubric Romney loves so much. The Priebus tweet is disgusting. The first Romney statement is no better:
“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.”
That's untrue. The Obama administration did not issue the tweet, which was, in any case, tweeted before the attacks, not after. Today, Romney doubled down on these two obvious misstatements:
“We join together in the condemnation of attacks on the American embassies and the loss of American life and join in sympathy for these people. It’s also important for me — just as it was for the White House, last night by the way — to say that the statements were inappropriate, and in my view a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values…
A brief moment of digression: the White House disowned a statement it itself did not release – but is then equally responsible for the tweet itself? The mind boggles. Then this, apparently, is an apology for American values:
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.
I'm a free speech absolutist – but I'm not an anti-religion absolutist. I think a little respect for religions we don't share is something most Americans would think is precisely an American value. I can see why there should have been a defense of the free speech of Terry Jones in that tweet in principle – and there is: "the universal right of free speech." Does Romney think the administration should have defended the film itself? Does Romney?
Of course, sitting in my blogging chair on the Cape, I can demand as radical a defense of blasphemy and hate speech as Romney can. But I was not inside an embassy in a foreign country as mob violence was building outside and as the US government was being conflated entirely with a bigoted anti-Muslim fanatic. And practically speaking, the embassy was trying to calm a situation, not inflame it. And diplomacy in the real world, where American lives are at stake, can necessitate such frustrating but necessary nuances. But such nuances are lost on Romney, as is, it seems, the basic notion of agency and responsibility:
The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also for the words that come from his ambassadors from his administration, from his embassies, from the State Department. They clearly sent mixed messages to the world, and the statement that came from the administration, and the embassy is the administration. The statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation.
So the president of the US is directly, personally responsible for a lone tweet designed to calm a dangerous situation – and this other person's tweet is then described as a "severe miscalculation" by the president and "akin to an apology." Well: you try to figure the logic out. Then this outreach from his senior foreign policy spokesman, Rich Williamson:
Tuesday night, while the attacks were still ongoing, Williamson said that the governments in Egypt and Libya as well as the Obama administration bear responsibility for the deteriorating security environment that led to the attacks.
"The events in Egypt and Libya show the failure of the Egyptian and Libyan governments to uphold their obligations to keep our diplomatic missions safe and secure and the regard in which the United States is held under President Obama in these two countries," he said. "It's all part of a broader scheme of the president's failure to be an effective leader for U.S. interests in the Middle East."
My italics. These people are simply unfit for the responsibility of running the United States. The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.
(Photo: David Calvert/Getty.)