Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is drawing heat for controversial remarks he made about President Barack Obama in response to attacks on the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt.
Romney, who has attempted to portray Obama as the “apologizer-in-chief” when it comes to foreign policy, released the following statement late Tuesday night, though it was reportedly written before the Libya attack (and obviously changed to reflect the latest attack before its release): “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.”
Yet after learning every piece of new information about those attacks, the Romney statement looks worse and worse—and simply off-key. First, Romney was referring to a statement that the U.S. embassy in Egypt issued condemning the “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” But that embassy statement, which the White House has distanced itself from, was in reference to an anti-Islam movie and anti-Islam pastor Terry Jones, and it came out BEFORE the embassy attacks began. Then this morning, we learned that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and others died in one of the attacks.
The obvious intent was to cool the passions of the protesters. As Marc Ambinder explained, it was “exactly what Americans inside the embassy who are scared for their lives now and worry about revenge later need to have released in their name.”
...The foolishness of Romney’s reaction is glaring. Pretending that the statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo was anything other than a completely understandable and reasonable attempt by its occupants to save their own lives borders on disgraceful. Romney’s implication that the statement was issued at the height of the attacks is also false; it was actually released earlier in the day, a preventive measure aimed at keeping the protests from turning violent.
The problem then isn’t only that Romney needlessly injected partisan politics into the crisis abroad, but also that he badly mischaracterized what exactly had happened.
Romney’s response has been met by heavy criticism, including from those within his own party. Some have gone so far as to call it an “utter disaster” and a “Lehman moment.”
“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.”
Obama finally responded to Romney late Wednesday afternoon, telling “60 Minutes,” “Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. That, you know, it’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make ’em.”
On whether Romney’s comments were irresponsible, Obama said, “I’ll let the American people judge that.”
Will this turn out to be a seminal moment in the Romney presidential campaign? Only time will tell.