Four Americans are dead, including an ambassador. I am frightened and terribly saddened by what has happened, which looks, in Libya, increasingly like a planned attack to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11.
And I have lost all respect for Mitt Romney.
My regular readers will know that I have spent a lot of time watching, reading, analyzing and writing about the presidential campaign, starting with the very first Republican primary debate. And along the way, I have been careful to be informative, and sometimes funny, and often snarky, but I usually have not revealed for whom I would vote in the end. That’s partly because I am fair-minded, partly because I don’t think my readers want to read a bunch of partisan acrimony, and partly because I truly didn’t know for whom I would vote.
I made up my mind a few months ago, and without saying what my decision was, I can tell you now that I will not be voting for Mr. Romney, because he demonstrated to me in his response to the incidents at the Cairo Embassy and the US Consulate in Benghazi that he does not understand what it means to be commander-in-chief, nor does he remember what it means to be anything other than a campaigner.
The Obama and Romney campaigns had agreed: for the 24 hours of September 11, 2012, there would be no negative attacks on each other.
At 10:09pm that day, the Romney campaign released a statement. It was in response to a statement issued by the Embassy in Cairo hours before. That embassy’s statement dealt with what the Embassy sensed was mounting unrest over a film from an American producer that depicts the prophet Muhammed (in itself offensive to Muslims) as, among other things, a philanderer. Here is the full statement from the Embassy, which was first picked up via internet around noon on Tuesday, EDT (6pm Cairo time, and 12 hours after it was initially released):
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. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. 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.
Six hours after the statement’s initial release, protestors had gathered around the embassy. Four and a half hours after that, the embassy confirmed that its wall had been breached and its American flag removed. Thirty minutes after that came the reports of clashes at the US Consulate in Benghazi and the possible death of one US official.
It was five hours after that that Mr. Romney’s campaign released his statement. It was embargoed until midnight, meaning no one was allowed to publish it until then – so the campaign could adhere to its agreement not to attack the president on September 11th.
But the campaign lifted the embargo at 10:25pm.
Here is the campaign’s full statement, posted on its website:
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.
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.
(There is a timeline of events at the end of this post; I urge you to read it. I think it will clarify much of what’s happened. I think you’ll find some of it very interesting, and I suspect we will hear much more about the first and last elements of the timeline in coming days.)
We could parse whether the Embassy’s statement was sympathetic to the attackers or not. The factual problem was this: one minute after Mr. Romney’s campaign released its statement, the White House told Politico that it had not approved the embassy’s statement, and that the statement did not reflect the position of the US Government. The Obama Administration had not made that statement – it was made by a public affairs officer at the embassy on his own.
But that wasn’t all that was wrong.
My visceral reaction when I first learned of what had happened and what Mr. Romney had said 15 hours before my post remains with me now: You do not come out with an attack on the president in the midst of an immediate crisis in which American lives are in danger or lost. I do not care that it’s the height of a political campaign. I do not care who is in the White House, Republican or Democrat. You voice heartfelt empathy for those who are in danger, those who have died, and their families. You stand in unity with all Americans, and you reiterate that justice will be served.
And then you shut the hell up, because you are not the President of the United States, and you do not know nearly as much as he knows.
But it didn’t stop there. The next morning (Wednesday), and in fact all day long, Mr. Romney, faced with questions of whether he had spoken too soon or been too critical, doubled down on his statement, insisting that he was right, that the president was wrong, and doing so even after the early-morning confirmation that four Americans were dead, including Ambassador John Christopher Stevens.
Mr. Romney, like anyone else, has the right to disagree with a decision from the president. But given that he wants the job, he should act presidential. And his behavior is not presidential, nor is it well-informed. It is stubborn, it is brash, it is disrespectful and it is tone deaf.
I am so, so saddened that this is where we are.
Mr. Romney’s statements were designed as a play for votes.
This is not a time to play.
A timeline of the events leading up to, including, and following the incidents in Cairo and Benghazi (Source: Fox News)
Monday, 9/10. 11:46pm – Video by Ayman Al Zawahiri of Al Qaeda surfaces, mourning death of a top Al Qaeda member killed in a June drone strike. Zawahiri calls fighters to avenge his death. Video cuts to file footage of Zawahiri’s brother, Mohammed Al Zawahiri. Analysts note the choice of footage
Tuesday, 9/11 (early) – Embassy in Cairo prepares for expected protests over anti-Islam video made in US. Associated Press quotes US official: “Embassy security had sent most staff home early after learning of the upcoming protest.”
6am (noon Cairo) – Cairo embassy officials release statement about video condemning “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
noon – Statement seen online, linked on Twitter
12:15pm – wires alert that Cairo protestors are scaling walls of embassy, tearing down US flag and replacing with Islamic flag resembling Al Qaeda flag. Witnesses report hearing chants of “We are all Usama.”
4:29pm – Embassy official’s tweet confirms breach of wall
5:00pm – Wires report clashes at consulate in Benghazi, Libya; reports that one US official may be dead
6:30pm – Cairo Embassy tweets “This morning’s condemnation (issued before the protest began) still stands, as does our condemnation of the breach.”
10:09pm – Romney campaign releases statement embargoed until midnight: “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… 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.”
10:10pm – Obama administration tells Politico that the Cairo embassy statement “was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States Government.”
10:25pm – Romney campaign lifts embargo on Romney statement
Wednesday, 9/12, after midnight – original Cairo embassy statement, subsequent tweets removed from embassy website and Twitter account
12:09am – Obama campaign spokesman emails reporters: “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.”
5:30am – Confirmation that US Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other staff members are dead in Benghazi attack
9:00am – Sec. Hillary Clinton speaks at State Dept., says attack was “by small and savage group,” not the Libyan government and not Muslims as a people
10:16am – Romney addresses attacks and his own criticism, reiterating and defending previous statement
10:42am – President Obama address from Rose Garden, condemns in “strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.”
12:30pm – Intelligence officials confirm Ayman Al Zawahiri’s brother Mohammed was at protest in Cairo