We can discuss why protesters decided to kill four American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya. The stated impetus concerns a badly produced movie displaying insensitivity toward Mohammed and Islam. In reality, this may have been a last straw for populations angered by anti-Islamism coming from the United States. I would expect that to be a bigger factor in places like Pakistan and Yemen, which suffer from near-daily US drone strikes. But clearly, there’s a simmering issue of lack of respect toward the Arab world, and it often plays out into tragedies like this.

That’s the geopolitics of this, and I might add it has not been improved by the Arab spring or the so-called reset of relations with the Arab world carried out by the Administration. This is not at all a justification for reacting to the near-term incident of an obscure movie insulting Mohammed by killing diplomats with a rocket-propelled grenade. I find that inexcusable. It does attempt to set it in context. (I generally agree with the similar issues raised by Glenn Greenwald here.)

But the fact remains that we are in an election year, and the actions of the Presidential candidates matter at a time like this. And so Mitt Romney’s double down on a false claim about “apologizing” for violence, based on a dubious ordering of the events in Cairo and Benghazi, should strike anyone interested in fewer unnecessary wars and senseless deaths as deplorable.

In a press conference delivered minutes after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the attacks, Romney expanded on his initial statement, in which he said the administration’s first response was “to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

“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,”Romney said. “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.” [...]

Romney defended his decision to condemn the president even when the facts and chronology were still unclear.

“I don’t think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles,” he said.

I should note that pretty much nobody in the Republican Party has followed Romney down this road. John McCain, who never met a war he didn’t like, praised Hillary Clinton’s short statement on the matter. Republican foreign policy officials were nonplussed by the slashing rhetoric used.

“They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up,” said a very senior Republican foreign policy hand, who called the statement an “utter disaster” and a “Lehman moment” — a parallel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 financial crisis, failed to come across as a steady leader.

He and other members of both parties cited the Romney campaign’s recent dismissals of foreign policy’s relevance. One adviser dismissed the subject to BuzzFeed as a “shiny object,” while another told Politico that the subject was the “president’s turf,” drawing a rebuke from Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.

“I guess we see now that it is because they’re incompetent at talking effectively about foreign policy,” said the Republican. “This is just unbelievable — when they decide to play on it they completely bungle it.”

This could be from the influence of hardcore neocon hawks like John Bolton at the top of the Romney hierarchy. But when even the most bootlicking of media sycophants cannot figure out the plot here, it’s time to seriously question the impact of the return of foreign policy belligerence. To be clear, what we have right now consists of “speak softly and carry a big drone.” But making enemies throughout the world with words as well as weapons (nobody thinks the drone program would get scaled back in a Romney Presidency, do they?) seems like a fair bit worse.