13 September 2012
Currently, Americans are much more concerned about domestic issues than international ones. However, foreign affairs are nothing if not unpredictable. And, in the blink of an eye, events can arise that recast priorities and draw attention to pressing challenges. That's exactly what happened Tuesday when four Americans, including US ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. On the same day, Egyptian protesters scaled the walls of the US embassy in Cairo. The riots in Egypt were in response to an anti-Islamic film produced by an Israeli filmmaker living in California (Update: Early reports identifying the filmaker as Israeli appear to be incorrect.). The assault in Libya may have been a pre-planned attack to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11. The tragic incident has also made its way into the political campaign. Romney condemned the Obama administration over a statement from the US embassy in Cairo criticising "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslim." The statement was released before the protesters breached the compound.Here's what others are saying about the incident.
The Washington Post's obituary of Christopher Stevens.
Arash Babaoff, a friend of Stevens since the 1990s, described him as an intensely committed diplomat. “It was his life,” Babaoff said. “He was just someone who really had his heart in this, and he really felt like he was making relationships and headway.”
Politico provides a timeline of the events.
Greg Sargent argues that Romney's response reflects poorly on the Republican nominee..
Romney repeatedly invoked the word “apology,” hearkening back to his regular accusation that Obama has “apologized” for America. “An apology for America’s values is never the right course,” Romney said.
My bet is that a lot of this has to do with the recent criticism from the right the Romney campaign has endured for supposedly not being tough enough with its attacks on Obama. Some conservative commentators have suggested that Romney has retreated to a more cautious mode after the Paul Ryan pick. The claim that Obama “apologized” for America is just the sort of thing these critics want to hear more of; hence last night’s attack and today’s doubling down on it.
But this press conference looks to me like a serious mistake on Romney’s part. The whole thing reeked of political opportunism and didn’t convey any sense of leadership or reassurance amid a crisis. It was also somewhat incoherent. At one point, Romney defended his reaction by noting that the White House, too, had also condemned the U.S embassy’s statement, claiming: “I had the exact same reaction.” Okay, so Romney is criticizing the Obama administration while simultaneously agreeing with it?
Romney is arguing that the administration at first took an objectionable stance. But the statement in question was put out by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, at a moment when it was bracing for trouble. No one except for confirmed Obama haters will buy the notion that the Obama administration sympathized with the attacks. And yet here Romney is at a hastily convened press conference, at a time when four Americans were murdered, doubling down on that exact charge.
Shadi Hamid says not to give up on the Arab Spring.
The White House must redouble its commitment to the Arab Spring. Across the region, Salafist extremists and other unsavory characters are trying to fill the power vacuum left by a weak and confused international community. Americans, now more than ever, need to hear a clear narrative of why Arab democrats need our support in their struggle against radicals. To put it more bluntly, what the Obama administration may need -- both to turn the tables on its critics at home and its enemies abroad -- is to opt for a "don't let the terrorists win" response. To be sure, it's a crude sentiment -- and one that can be used to justify nearly anything, as it was under the Bush administration. But today it actually makes sense. It has the added virtue of being not only good policy for the Arab world, but good politics back home.
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