UPDATE 10:20: In a press conference, Romney just claimed that “it is never too early to condemn” attacks on U.S. personnel. Apparently, “never too early” means condemning the attacks before they have even occurred. He also made it pretty clear that no apology for his statements will be forthcoming.
He is simply wrong on this. Wrong factually, wrong politically, wrong as a matter of simple decency. He has bungled this badly, and is doubling down on the bungle.
With four American diplomats dead in Libya, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the United States has in effect come under attack overseas. The response of the Mitt Romney campaign has been to accuse the Obama administration of sympathizing with the attackers.
That charge is grotesque. It is also factually incorrect. It can be made correct only by going back in time and rearranging events to suit the Romney narrative, and that is not going to happen. Let’s take a look at how the tragic events in question played out:
1.) Alarmed at reports of rising anger in Egypt over an anti-Islamic film made in the United States, the U.S. embassy in Cairo tries to calm things Tuesday morning with a statement in which it “condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims—as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
2.) Hours AFTER that statement is released, as the Wall Street Journal reports, protesters in Cairo breach the walls of the embassy and pull down the American flag.
3.) Attacks in Libya — also launched well AFTER the embassy statement — end in the tragic death of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. They died in service to our country.
4.) Romney quickly puts out a statement calling it “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.”
5.) In the actual first U.S. response to the attacks, released about the same time as the Romney statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the violence in no uncertain terms:
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
The charge that an American president sympathizes with those who attacked this country should not be made easily. In fact, under the circumstances it is a charge that should not have been made at all. It would seem to me that an apology is in order from former Gov. Romney, RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and others who made such an unfounded charge at such a delicate time.
– Jay Bookman