Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney once again exhibited poor diplomatic judgement in response to yesterday’s attacks on American embassies in Egypt and Libya, raising more questions about his fitness to serve as Commander in Chief.
Romney’s latest foreign policy flub began late Tuesday night, when he broke his own “no politics on September 11th” embargo to release a statement slamming President Barack Obama for alleged sympathy toward those who attacked the embassies in Cairo and 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,” Romney said.
The problem, of course, is that President Obama did no such thing. The response to which Romney was referring — in which the U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions” — was released several hours before the embassies were attacked. In other words, it was not a response at all.
Furthermore, on Tuesday night the White House distanced itself from the Cairo embassy’s statement — telling ABC News that “no one in Washington approved that statement before it was released and it doesn’t reflect the views of the U.S. government” — and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement of her own, saying “let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
On Wednesday morning, faced with the fact that his attack was absurdly misleading, Romney nevertheless chose to double down.
“I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions,” Romney said in a press conference in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s never too early for the U.S. government to defend attacks on Americans and defend our values.”
“The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn’t ‘cleared by Washington.’ That reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world,” Romney added. So even though the Obama administration did exactly what he wanted them to do, they’re still wrong in Romney’s eyes. Talk about “mixed signals.”
Romney’s continued politicizing of the death of four Americans looks even worse in comparison to this morning’s remarks from President Obama and Secretary Clinton, both of whom condemned the attack and mourned the victims while ignoring politics (and Romney).
Meanwhile the response to Romney’s attack has been almost universally negative. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt quickly pushed back with a statement saying that “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”
A number of Republicans seem to agree with LaBolt’s reaction. As Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin points out, Congressional Republicans — with few exceptions — have not joined Romney in using the tragedy as an excuse to attack the Obama administration. Furthermore, this morning several Republican foreign policy leaders anonymously ripped Romney’s response to Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith.
“They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up,” one “very senior Republican foreign policy hand” told Smith.
“I guess we see now that it is because they’re incompetent at talking effectively about foreign policy,” he continued. “This is just unbelievable — when they decide to play on it they completely bungle it.”
Similarly, a former aide to Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign told Smith that “It’s bad…Just on a factual level that the statement was not a response but preceding, or one could make the case precipitating. And just calling it a ‘disgrace’ doesnt really cut it. Not ready for prime time.”
The controversy over Romney’s political attack underscores an important policy issue: Romney’s actual foreign policy perspective is just as muddled as his response to the embassy attacks. The Republican candidate’s position on Libya, for instance, has been all over the map, and he has offered few substantive ideas on how to manage the U.S. response to the “Arab spring.”
Today, when given an opportunity to take a substantive position on a pressing foreign issue, Romney instead chose to attack the president and then depart the podium.
If there was any doubt as to why President Obama decisively leads him in almost every poll on foreign policy and national security, Romney’s behavior clarified the matter today.