Amid the confusion of the protests in Cairo and Benghazi, that turned — or was incited — into a deadly attack in the latter case, there’s at least some evidence that American diplomats in Cairo were doing what diplomats ought to be doing: keeping a finger on the pulse of their host country.
The news was spreading like wildfire about a crass film from American extremists denigrating the prophet Mohammed. Having seen the loss of life that has occurred when such regrettable incidents occurred before, the U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”
Once protests broke out in Cairo, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney immediately sought to exploit the situation — and shot himself in the rhetorical foot.
The embassy’s statement apparently was not cleared by the White House and was issued while the U.S. ambassador was out of the country, but its intent was clear enough: distance America and Americans from irresponsible utterances that have led to rioting and deaths before. A large trade delegation, the lives of American tourists and businessmen and friends of America from other countries were at risk if the situation got out of hand.
Shortly thereafter, the Benghazi protest turned into an armed attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three staff members, and also apparently some Libyan security guards trying to protect the U.S. consulate.
Romney’s snap political judgment was that the Cairo statement was proof that President Barack Obama has spent his administration “apologizing” for the United States’ policies and values. This is, on its face, ridiculous, but it is believed by the extreme anti-Obama zealots — and Romney did not miss a pandering possibility.
This was a sharp political instant response, a textbook example of what political gurus teach about campaigning. But it was a case of Romney’s unwillingness to exercise the cool-headed caution that ought to govern leaders when foreign crises erupt.
“I think it is a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” Romney said at a press conference, even after having had time to think this over.
We think it’s time for Romney to back down. Should the people elect him president, we can confidently predict that he will have many future occasions to bite his tongue and say what is diplomatically appropriate instead of what a sliver of anti-Obama opinion wants to hear.