I’m no fan of Buzzfeed’s writing. Or much of anything else they do. But if they’re accurately reporting Republican reaction to Mitt Romney’s criticism of Obama after the death of our Libyan ambassador, Mitt better do something. He might shamble his way back to a microphone pretty quick.
Mitt Romney’s sharply-worded attack on President Obama over a pair of deadly riots in Muslim countries last night has backfired badly among foreign policy hands of both parties, who cast it as hasty and off-key, released before the facts were clear at what has become a moment of tragedy.
This was Romney last night: “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,” he said. “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 keyed his statement to the American Embassy in Cairo’s condemnation of an anti-Muslim video that served as the trigger for the latest in a series of regional riots over obscure perceived slights to the faith. But his statement — initially embargoed to avoid release on September 11, then released yesterday evening anyway — came just before news that the American Ambassador to Libya had been killed and broke with a tradition of unity around national tragedies, and of avoiding hasty statements on foreign policy. . .
“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.
That one’s anonymous. But maybe you’d like a name. How about Bill Kristol?
“I guess we see now that it is because they’re incompetent at talking effectively about foreign policy,” said the Republican. “This is just unbelievable — when they decide to play on it they completely bungle it.”
More and more:
“It’s deeply unfortunate when the circumstance of the statement becomes the story,” said Rick Perry’s former foreign policy adviser, Victoria Coates, who is now an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and who suggested that Romney should simply have “gone earlier rather than save it for midnight” to avoid appearing to play politics on September 11. “It’s unfortunate that it’s playing out this way, and hopefully they can get back on message, because their point is sound,” she said.
Other conservatives were less sympathetic.
“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.”
The third Republican did support Romney’s essential message after disparaging the timing and politics of it. Romney however isn’t interested in whatever these foreign policy experts have to say. He’s lagging in his campaign for the presidency with only eight weeks to go. So this morning he doubled up on the attack:
“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, echoing a provocative statement the campaign released late Tuesday night. “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.”
Before violence broke out, the Egyptian consulate commented on the growing controversy by denouncing anti-Muslim rhetoric [see here]. After the deaths, the consulate re-posted the comment, but the administration disavowed it. Instead, both the President and the Secretary of State issued statements strongly denouncing the killing. Romney knows this but chooses to ignore it. Because he’s desperate. What a sad campaign.
Incidentally, did you see Vladimir Putin yesterday thank Mitt Romney for calling Russia “our number one geopolitical foe”? He said Mittens made Russia’s case for opposing the missile defense shield. Well played, foreign policy expert.