On Wednesday morning, it was reported that four Americans, including the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, were murdered by a mob and rocket attack in Benghazi. The embassy walls in Cairo, Egypt, were also breached; our flag was burned by extremists. Both countries failed to secure the outside of both compounds. The situation was complicated by its timing, which coincided with intense emotions surrounding the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Tragically, and perhaps predictably, the events unfolding in Libya and Cairo have been spun politically in record time. Sharp criticism has been aimed at President Obama over the following unauthorized statement from the embassy in Cairo.
"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 ... 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."
The statement, released before the violence broke out in Libya, was interpreted as the official statement from the State Department. RNC chairman Reince Priebus attacked the statement in the following Tuesday night Tweet:
"Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic."
And Mitt Romney fired off this statement shortly after:
"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."
Contrary to these embarrassing assertions, which are rooted in political opportunism, the Obama administration has issued the following detailed official statement:
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.
I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants."
The official statement is unequivocal in its condemnation of the attacks.
"This was the work of a small and savage group … Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior … as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet … But let me be clear. There is no justification for this. None. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith."
Again, unequivocal condemnation by the Obama administration.
Right before the short-notice scheduling of Secretary Clinton's speech, Romney changed the timing of his campaign appearance to release a statement in person, switching the time from 9:30 A.M. to shortly after 10:15 A.M. — right before President Obama's 10:35 A.M. speech. The juggling around of time slots suggests that Romney was desperate to have his position heard on national television.
In his statement, Romney said:
"America will not tolerate attacks against its embassies … we have confidence in our cause in America … we stand for the principles our Constitution respects … I also believe the administration was wrong in standing by a statement released [by the embassy in Cairo] … American leadership is still sorely needed."
Romney went on to answer reporters' questions in what unfolded as incredibly brazen, hypocritical attacks on Obama. When asked about the initial, unauthorized Cairo statement and the refutation of the statement shortly after by the White House, he said he agreed with the Obama administration's response.
"The White House also issued a statement saying it tried to distance itself from those comments in saying they were not consistent with its views. I had the same exact reaction. These views were inappropriate, they were the wrong course to take, when our embassy has been breached."
So, Romney agrees with the administration's response in condemning the unofficial statement from the Cairo embassy.
And yet, during a time of national crisis, Romney has decided to pounce on the issue in the hours following the assassination of an American and three other embassy staffers. He has also managed to take a similar position to the official one and then attempt to twist it in such a nuanced way to make President Obama look weak and indecisive.
Wrapping up the press conference, he said about himself and the president:
"We join together in the condemnation of the attacks on American embassies and the loss of American life and join in the sympathy for these people…but it is important for me, just as it was for the White House, last night by the way, to say that the statements were inappropriate and in my view, a disgraceful statement on the part of our Administration to apologize for American values."
As the questions continued to focus more on the timing of Romney's remarks, what he would have done differently, and how exactly President Obama did not answer effectively enough, he thanked the reporters and walked off stage.
Romney is united with Obama in condemning both the attacks and the initial rogue response from the embassy — yet he also condemns the president for agreeing with the initial statement.
By twisting logic to fit his incoherent political narrative, he claims that the administration both condemns and supports the embassy statement, and he himself both agrees with and condemns the president's response to the statement. The issue, it seems, has nothing to do with the actions of the administration, but rather an opportunity to take advantage of an international crisis to score political points.
What is clear is that Romney agrees with the president's response. What is known is that the White House and the Department of State did not authorize the initial response from the Cairo embassy as events unfolded, and the statement was rightly rejected by Obama.
What is also clear is that the president and his administration did not apologize for American values, as Romney accuses them of having done. The official statements, both live and written, have been clear from the outset of this crisis. Attacking the president in the early hours of an international crisis while events are unfolding and changing at a moment's notice is not only inappropriate, but it gives Americans another glimpse into the opportunistic motives of the Romney campaign's attempts to highjack official American policy.
Romney is right. Leadership is indeed needed.
What is also necessary, however, is to unite around existing leadership, and not to attack it while the world is watching.
The politicization of these attacks and trying to put daylight between two similar positions is confusing and politically arrogant. It is disrespectful to those who were killed in Libya. If Romney really believes in U.S. leadership, then he needs to fall behind the Commander-in-Chief to send a resoundingly clear and consistent message on the international stage. As the facts surrounding this crisis come to be known, it is that conflict of messaging that creates the perception of weakness
Note: The statements above from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney were dictated as they were spoken at their live press conferences on CNN.