A tragedy in Libya provoked by a film insulting Islam has turned into an attempt by Mitt Romney to take umbrage with the White House.
The US Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi at an attack on the US consulate, hit by a rocket-propelled grenade as they tried to flee. The attackers in Benghazi followed the lead of protesters at the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, who pulled down the US flag and tried to burn it.
What was the impetus for these attacks? An amateur anti-Islam film promoted by Pastor Terry Jones, the man whose efforts to burn a Koran caused similar unrest against Western interests in Afghanistan, leading to the deaths of several UN workers. How Jones has this incredible reach into the Arab world is beyond me. But he does, and it has led to a terrible bout of violence in two of the main countries touched by the Arab spring.
Both the Egyptian and Libyan governments condemned the violence outside the American diplomatic compounds. But local security officials in both countries appeared slow to provide protection for the American diplomatic installations, and have issued no firm statements explaining the violence or expressing strong concern.
The incidents raised the question of to what extent governments in countries where suspicions of the United States run high are willing or able to provide security for American diplomats.
Before the extent of the violence was fully known, when the protests hit the streets but not the embassies, the US State Department sent out a tweet condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” Once the protests ended in the deaths of Americans, Mitt Romney decided that was the official response of the US government, and let loose with this:
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.
Here’s President Obama’s actual initial statement after the attacks became known.
I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.
The President then said that security would be increased at diplomatic posts worldwide, and added this: “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.” The timeline of events has been confirmed by the State Department.
I know that politics doesn’t end at the water’s edge anymore, but exploiting a tragedy by shifting around the timeline is pretty weak. There’s probably more to say about the intensity of these attacks, the location of them, and what that means. But it’s about 100 miles away from faking a claim that the White House is “apologizing for America.”
…Incidentally, the White House isn’t helping matters by disavowing a statement from the Cairo Embassy delivered before the violence began.