Romney Criticized for Political Turn After Ambassador’s Killing

  • Share
  • Read Later
Esam Al-Fetori / Reuters

An interior view of the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi Sept. 12, 2012. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three embassy staff were killed as they rushed away from the consulate building, stormed by al Qaeda-linked gunmen blaming America for a film that they said insulted the Prophet Mohammad.

Mitt Romney began the 2012 anniversary of September 11 by calling for a suspension of politics. “There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not it,” Romney told a morning National Guard gathering in Reno, Nev.

Just hours later, Romney could no longer resist. Angered by an offensive YouTube video that mocked the prophet Mohammed, mobs had breached the walls at diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt. U.S. diplomats in Cairo, hoping to stem local furies, had issued a statement hours earlier: “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.”

Romney saw an opportunity to tie his case that Barack Obama apologizes for American greatness to the news cycle. At 10:09 p.m., on the East Coast, before the full death toll of the mobs was known, the Romney campaign sent an email to reporters. “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,” Romney wrote. “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.”

In the hours that followed, the news got worse. The U.S. death toll in Libya grew to four, including the Libyan Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The White House made clear that it had not approved the Cairo memo, and condemned the events without qualification.

By Wednesday morning, stern condemnations from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for swift justice competed with a hastily called press conference by Romney to explain his late night barb. “The statement that came from the Administration was a statement which is akin to apology,” Romney said, standing his ground, even as he acknowledged that the White House had neither authored or defended the embassy press release. “I think it was a severe miscalculation.”

Presidential elections usually turn on big issues and broad trends, but sometimes it’s the unexpected and unimaginable things that matter.  What  top Obama and Romney political strategists feared most in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign was the stuff they couldn’t coming—a terrorist attack, an economic crisis, a deadly weather event, or madman’s rampage. No one could have predicted that an inflammatory attempt at online moviemaking would imperil U.S. interests in the Arab world, or lead to the murder of American diplomats. But when it happened, the country got the contrast the two campaigns had both feared.

While Romney explained his political barbs Wednesday morning, Obama made no mention of politics or his opponent in his statement following the attacks. From the Rose Garden, he spoke only of the dead, of his personal outrage, of the greatness of America’s freedoms and his plan for a national response. “Make no mistake,” Obama said, “we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”

Romney begins this chapter at a distinct disadvantage, already behind roughly 12 points when pollsters ask voters about foreign policy judgement. He is also fighting off criticism for his failure to mention the troops or Afghanistan in his Tampa convention speech. Indeed, the tangible policy differences between Romney and Obama have sometimes been hard to discern. Romney has criticized Obama for not being tougher on Iran, but has yet to lay out clear policy alternatives. Like Obama, Romney supports a transfer of control to Afghanistan to local forces by 2014, but unlike Obama, Romney says he will not call that timeframe a fixed timetable. Romney criticized “mission creep and mission muddle” after Obama authorized a NATO bombing of Libya, but then praised the killing of the nation’s tyrant Muammar Gaddafi. “It’s about time,” he said.

The early reviews on Romney’s handling of the episode were not glowing. Former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, a Republican, told reporters that Romney “should have waited” to release the statement. Others were more critical. “It is a natural product of the election, but it is the worst possible reaction to what happened,” said Anthony Cordesman, a Republican foreign policy expert who has advised John McCain. “We need to be extremely cautious about rushing out and politicizing it.”

in the final weeks of a campaign of this scale, there are very few moments that really count. But when they matter, they can reshape the race.  A day that began with Romney calling for national unity before politics in the face of terrorism ended with just the opposite. Voters will decide if the shift revealed Romney as a statesman displaying the courage of his convictions or a politician seeking advantage in a time of turmoil.

With reporting by Jay Newton-Small/Washington. This post has been updated (1:44 p.m. ET).

47 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

Flailing around with verbal accusations before the facts are known is not the best example of how to be an effective president or commander-in-chief. In this latest episode, Romney and his staff displayed the same immaturity and insensitivity that we saw on his London trip. That's two for two foreign-policy flubs for Mitt. In 2008, the Republican slogan was "Country First." I guess Romney has decided he can do better with "Mitt First!" in 2012, which is not surprising for a candidate who thinks he is entitled to be president because his easy money makes him superior to everyone else.

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

The early reviews on Romney’s handling of the episode were not glowing.

Your talent for gross understatement is duly noted........

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

"The statement that came from the Administration was a statement which is akin to apology."

"Akin to an apology"?  Jeez, his desperation to try and get the upper hand on any issue is revolting.  The initial statement was nothing more than an attempt to calm people and make it crystal clear that the movie that sparked this is not associated or condoned by the US in any way.  Lives were lost and Romney seized the moment as an opportunity to attack the President.  Situations like this are the times when politics are supposed to stop at the water's edge.  Even the statement released by the GOP reflected that.  Romney is disgraceful and craven.

filmnoia
filmnoia

You know when Sununu, Willard's toy bulldog , says he "should have waited" that's another way of saying - "Sit down you oaf and shut your damn mouth."

This is a campaign devouring itself. Wonderful to see.

lreed580
lreed580

Someone on another site characterized Romney as the "Todd Akin of foreign policy."

ahandout
ahandout

 Obama never gives mixed signals, well maybe a few:

1. Apology to France and Europe ("America Has Shown Arrogance"). Speech by President Obama, Rhenus Sports Arena, Strasbourg, France, April 3, 2009.

2. Apology to the Muslim World ("We Have Not Been Perfect"). President Obama, interview with Al Arabiya, January 27, 2009.

3.  Apology to the Summit of the Americas ("At Times We Sought to Dictate Our Terms"). President

Obama, address to the Summit of the Americas opening ceremony, Hyatt

Regency, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, April 17, 2009.

4. Apology at the G-20 Summit of World Leaders ("Some Restoration of America's Standing in the World"). News conference by President Obama, ExCel Center, London, United Kingdom, April 2, 2009.

5.  Apology for the War on Terror ("We Went off Course"). President Obama, speech at the National Archives, Washington, D.C., May 21, 2009.

6. Apology for Guantanamo in France ("Sacrificing Your Values"). Speech by President Obama, Rhenus Sports Arena, Strasbourg, France, April 3, 2009.

7. Apology before the Turkish Parliament ("Our Own Darker Periods in Our History"). Speech by President Obama to the Turkish Parliament, Ankara, Turkey, April 6, 2009.

8.  Apology for U.S. Policy toward the Americas ("The United States Has Not Pursued and Sustained Engagement with Our Neighbors").

9. Apology for the Mistakes of the CIA ("Potentially We've Made Some Mistakes"). Remarks

by the President to CIA employees, CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia,

April 20, 2009. The remarks followed the controversial decision to

release Office of Legal Counsel memoranda detailing CIA enhanced

interrogation techniques used against terrorist suspects.

10. Apology for Guantanamo in Washington ("A Rallying Cry for Our Enemies"). President Obama, speech at the National Archives, Washington, D.C., May 21, 2009.

filmnoia
filmnoia

Speaketh the Ugly American. Kind of hard  isn't it Bubby to say "we're number #1 when we're down in the pack of 20 something in math/science education and affordability and access to good healthcare. Come out of your cave and join the 21st century, and put your shoulder to the boulder and push.

MrObvious
MrObvious

And I will apologize for you. Sorry world - this is our crazy.

Ed Roldan
Ed Roldan

I am afraid that if elected, Rommey will get us into war again.......

pollardty
pollardty

John Bolton is a Romney advisor. Google him and be terrified.

grape_crush
grape_crush

Romney presser video here, 10-ish EST:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

Romney fails in his first go at a 'Presidential crisis' speech. Instead of dealing with the criticism or expressing a hope that the current administration (or even his, should he be elected) would be able to help bring the murderers to justice, he doubles down on the immature political bulls**t.

Nice smirk at the end, too. Jerk.

Also, it's not as if this is the first time Romney has done something like this.

jmac
jmac

Exactly - he repeatedly makes these gaffes, whether it's foreign policy or merely talking to folks in a diner.  Dowd thought W. lived in a thermos; Romney's simply bizarre.  

Andrew Sullivan:   "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.

gysgt213
gysgt213

Don't worry. Mitt will have a new position on this later this evening.

JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

WHO IS BEHIND THIS JIHAD?

LOS

ANGELES (AP) — An Israeli filmmaker based in California went into hiding

Tuesday after his movie attacking Islam's prophet Muhammad sparked angry

assaults by ultra-conservative Muslims on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya,

where four Americans were killed.

Speaking

by phone from an undisclosed location, writer and director Sam Bacile remained defiant, saying

Islam is a cancer and that the 56-year-old intended his film to be a

provocative political statement condemning the religion.

Protesters

angered over Bacile's film opened fire on and burned down the U.S. consulate in

the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing an American diplomat on Tuesday.

In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and replaced

an American flag with an Islamic banner.

"This

is a political movie," said Bacile. "The U.S. lost a lot of money and

a lot of people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're fighting with

ideas."

Bacile, a

California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said

he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam's flaws to

the world.

"Islam

is a cancer, period," he said repeatedly, his solemn voice thickly

accented.

The

two-hour movie, "Innocence of Muslims," cost $5 million to make and

was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors, said Bacile, who

wrote and directed it.

The film

claims Muhammad was a fraud. An English-language 13-minute trailer on YouTube

shows an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults disguised as

revelations about Muhammad, whose obedient followers are presented as a cadre

of goons.

It depicts

Muhammad as a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse, among

other overtly insulting claims that have caused outrage.

Muslims

find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any manner, let alone insult the

prophet. A Danish newspaper's 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet

triggered riots in many Muslim countries.

Though

Bacile was apologetic about the American who was killed as a result of the outrage

over his film, he blamed lax embassy security and the perpetrators of the

violence.

"I

feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good," said Bacile.

"America should do something to change it."

A

consultant on the film, Steve Klein, said the filmmaker is

concerned for family members who live in Egypt. Bacile declined to confirm.

Klein said

he vowed to help Bacile make the movie but warned him that "you're going

to be the next Theo van Gogh." Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker killed by a

Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a film that was perceived as insulting to

Islam.

"We

went into this knowing this was probably going to happen," Klein said.

Bacile's

film was dubbed into Egyptian Arabic by someone he doesn't know, but he speaks

enough Arabic to confirm that the translation is accurate. It was made in three

months in the summer of 2011, with 59 actors and about 45 people behind the

camera.

The full

film has been shown once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this

year, said Bacile.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

RE MS's last sentence: I think the latter.

This dude knows full well people question his religion [weird, IMO] and he would bristle at any attempt to portray Joseph Smith in a bad light--multiple wives, hauling gold tablets, speaking to Jesus and his angels in the 1800s and baptisms by proxy for the dead notwithstanding.  Maybe that's why he's said next to nothing about what Mormons believe.

So picking on Mohammed = incompetency on BO's part?  Really??

Added: My pastor has said LDS subtract from faith by adding to it--i.e., the Book of Mormon is supposed to be another revelation of Christ's Gospel, but we got the Bible (not necessarily the extra missing books some Catholics believe) and don't consider the BOM to be the same.

Yeshuratnam
Yeshuratnam

Instead of condemning murderers and thugs, why the Obama administration is attacking intellectuals, including the Danish cartoonist? Mohammad's life is known to all, and students have to study about him from text books. The movie is based on historical facts. Then why Obama wants to muzzle free thinking? Why does he want to suppress true historical facts? 

MrObvious
MrObvious

What free thinking have been muzzled?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Perhaps we can put out an informational video on the life of the founder of Mormonism, a known conman, swindler and possible murderer. Think anyone on the Romney staff would be trying to suppress that?

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

First, Obama said nothing about the Danish cartoonists.  Nobody said anything about them.  A few blanket statements, but that's about it.

Second, the violence of Islam isn't a representation of Islam but a representation of certain followers of Islam.  Timothy McVeigh no more represents Christianity than Osama Bin Laden represents Islam.  Too often, the inability to disassociate religion and individuals results in people assuming that this is what the religion is about.

Third, it shows a very narrow viewpoint of Islam - focusing on parts that are necessarily negative while ignoring the good elements.  I can easily leaf through the bible and show you parts that promote violence and cruelty (how often is stoning mentioned?)  The narrow view hinders one's ability to understand Islam and why it really is only a minority that are the violent ones.

For example: did you know that Mohammed's work created an incredible advancement of mathematics and science for the Arab world?  In fact, the Islamic people ended up somewhere in the range of 5 centuries ahead of their European counterparts at the height of their intellectual surge.  Sadly, hardliners began working against Science and by the Siege of Vienna, the Europeans finally surpassed them.

BTW: Freedom of Speech does not mean Freedom to never be criticized.  Obama is fully within his rights to criticize a film maker.  If he worked to prevent the film maker from releasing his movie, that would be violating the film maker's rights - but that isn't what anyone is suggesting

jmac
jmac

A tweet:  A Jewish idiot makes a film, a Christian idiot promotes it, Muslim idiots kill over it, and Republican idiots condemn Obama.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

There is nothing statesmanlike to make political hay as fast as possible in the midst of a crisis while your opponent is, y'know, actually fixing the crisis.

There is nothing courageous about it either

And Romney has never shown any conviction that he can actually stick to.

In fairness, he had to double down after his original gambit failed.  You're right - there are moments that decide elections and this was one of them and he had to stick to it.  At least this way he only committed one faux pas.  Retreating after making a stupid attack would create two.

bobell
bobell

"There are moments that decide elections and this was one of them." And it's already clear what the decision is going to be.

Maybe Rummy wasn't as stupid as he appeared when worrying about unknown unknowns. We didn't know that Romney would have to handle something like this, and we didn't know how he'd do.  Now we know both.

Adios, Mitt.

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

Voters will decide if the shift revealed Romney as a statesman displaying the courage of his convictions or a politician seeking advantage in a time of turmoil.

His trip to England, Israel, and Poland demonstrated that Romney is not a statesman, and the entire primary process demonstrated that he has no convictions — other than to win at any cost.

Kevin Groenhagen
Kevin Groenhagen

Will you have a president with absolutely no foreign policy experience "leading from behind" and then seeing that end up biting him in the behind, who in the world would think Obama is better on foreign policy than Romney?

Obama was naive enough to believe leading from behind and going on apology tours would get Muslims to love us. How's that working out?

MrObvious
MrObvious

Thanks for all the soundbites. For a moment there it sounded like smurf to me.

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

With all the swill that you spew forth on the public, how is it possible that you can make a career out of advertising?  Wait...I just answered my own question.  Never mind, "Skippy"

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Guys like Romney publicly rattle swords and accomplish nothing while this administration don't say as much but wields a mean knife in the shadows as many a former Al Quada member can testify, assuming of course they were still alive to do so.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

^^^^^^^^

Groeny

"thinking with behind"

bobell
bobell

You may have noticed that Obama promised retaliation.  Osama bin Laden could tell you what that means (if he weren't fish food).

Everything you have to say is wrong.

grape_crush
grape_crush

Will you have a president with absolutely no foreign policy experienc...

So far, it's Romney who hasn't displayed expertise in or even an understanding of foreign policy, Groeny.

Visits to China to work out the offshoring of US jobs apparently didn't teach him all that much about the Middle East.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 After the election Romney can get an Ambassador post to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, two countries he does have a lot of foreign experience with.

gysgt213
gysgt213

Romney camp:

Blame it on the goose Got you feeling loose Blame it on Patron Got you in the zone Blame it on the a a a a a alcohol Blame it on the a a a a a a alcohol

Pnnto
Pnnto

Not sure how Willard's response, you know- the lie about the administration, could be construed as "a stateman displaying the courage of his convictions"

Unless Willard's convictions are lying, of course. He's displaying something alright.

pollardty
pollardty

His smirking at the press avail displayed everything one needs to know about Mitt. He is disconnected from the reality of others.

Pnnto
Pnnto

I saw that picture in the thread below. Both incredible and unsurprising.

I hate to repeat myself (and yet I do) but his is the worst campaign I can recall on a national level. And the worst candidate.

MrObvious
MrObvious

It's like McCain and Sarah but in reverse (sorta). He's acting like Sarah and Paul like McCain.

Pnnto
Pnnto

And I'm not even discussing their postions, just the execution.

At the start of the republican campaign I sort of stipulated that Willard was smart and a professional, in the best sense, politician at the very least.

I think I was wrong.

pollardty
pollardty

The extremism of their base is forcing Republican campaigns into incoherence. Bachman, Perry, Cain and Santorum better represented the base but exposure is not kind to their ideals. They can't hold up to scrutiny. Romney was the last man standing because the rest implode under the weight of their own kooky beliefs.

MrObvious
MrObvious

“The statement that came from the Administration was a statement which is akin to apology,” Romney said, standing his ground, even as he acknowledged that the White House had neither authored or defended the embassy press release. “I think it was a severe miscalculation.”

Which Mitt will win this argument over Mitt itself?