Last night, an armed mob—angry over an American-made video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad—attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, along with three of his staff members. This came after a similar uprising in Egypt, where protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag. Initial reports on the situation—which revealed the death of a U.S. official—were followed by this statement from the Romney campaign:
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Likewise, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus tweeted that “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Both are in response to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo—released before protesters breached the compound—which criticized said film for hurting “the religious feelings” of others. The White House says it did not authorize the statement, and since then, President Barack Obama has released a statement condemning the violence and mourning the dead:
“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,” said Obama, describing Ambassador Stevens as a “courageous and exemplary representative of the United States” who “selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi.”
It’s not out of bounds for Mitt Romney to criticize the president’s handling of foreign-policy crises; in fact, it affords Romney an opportunity to articulate a foreign-policy vision. But it’s not a critique to accuse the president of the United States of sympathizing with “those who waged the attacks” and killed four American citizens. It’s an ugly charge that ignores the dead in order to make a cheap—and false—attack on Obama. As Mother Jones’s Adam Serwer puts it, “The official Republican response to Americans being killed abroad yesterday is that the president of the United States is on the side of the killers, so vote Romney.”
I have to wonder if this is part of the Romney campaign’s plan to move away from its focus on Obama’s economic stewardship and toward an across-the-board attack on the administration’s policies. If so, it stinks of desperation. Swing voters, who give the president high ratings on national security, won’t be swayed by crass opportunism and attacks that present Obama as an anti-American radical.
In addition to being the wrong message for the occasion, this is a huge misstep for the Romney campaign. Voters are still undecided on whether Romney is ready for the presidency, and moves like this only strengthen the Democratic case that the former Massachusetts governor is too inexperienced and too belligerent to serve as president, much less commander in chief.