You known how, a few weeks ago as the Olympics were about to get started, Mitt Romney went to London and made an ass of himself? That was kind of funny, and it got a lot of people wondering whether Romney would really be such a great person to have running the country.
But yesterday was not funny at all. In the wake of attacks on American embassies in Egypt and Libya, the latter of which resulted in four American deaths including that of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, Romney “went for a cheap attack at a time when any calm, mature adult would have waited and opted for at least a brief show of national unity” (to quote Gail Collins). In the course of doing so, Romney got important facts wrong – of course, a more experienced person, or one with more common sense, would have realized that situations like this move quickly and unpredictably, and therefore restraint in the early going is advisable, but Romney chose to go for the quick attack instead, and it backfired. His response has flabbergasted even Republicans.
“They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up,” said a very senior Republican foreign policy hand, who called the statement an “utter disaster” and a “Lehman moment” — a parallel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 financial crisis, failed to come across as a steady leader….
“It’s bad,” said a former aide to Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “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’ doesn’t really cut it. Not ready for prime time.”
A third Republican, a former Bush State Department official, told BuzzFeed, “It wasn’t presidential of Romney to go political immediately — a tragedy of this magnitude should be something the nation collectively grieves before politics enters the conversation.”
There’s an excellent column in today’s Globe by Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations including that of George W. Bush. Burns puts yesterday’s events in perspective far batter than I could.
Yesterday’s tragic murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats in Libya illustrates the ever-present dangers for Americans in the volatile Middle East. Thousands of US diplomats like Stevens are on point for us all over the world, and they make an enormous contribution to our national security. But this tragedy also points to the need for capable, experienced, and wise people at the top of our government when crises test the mettle of our leaders. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both made strong and determined statements in response to the attack on our diplomats, focusing on our unequivocal opposition to terrorism and fanatacism in the Middle East.
In contrast, GOP candidate Mitt Romney accused the administration of showing sympathy to terrorists and apologizing for their actions. By making these completely inaccurate charges, Romney injected the politics of the presidential race into a complex drama half a world away on a day when all Americans should have been rallying around our government and its diplomats in the Middle East.
Crises often reveal the true nature and also the limitations of our leaders. Romney’s statements, made with incomplete understanding of the facts on the ground, represent the worst of our sound-bite-driven politics. He should have issued a strong statement of support for our diplomats in the fight against terrorism and refrained from commenting on what he could not understand sitting outside the government as our two diplomatic outposts were being attacked. Instead, he made an already bad situation even worse. In fact, his statements were so reckless and irresponsible that it prompts the inevitable question: What kind of commander-in-chief would he be?
Read the whole thing.