Libya, Egypt, Obama and Romney

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 14, 2012

So, to put matters mildly, stuff absolutely, positively, horrifyingly hit the fan in Egypt and Libya with riots, a terrorist attack, and dead Americans–including the absolutely outstanding ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. His death will be a major loss and he will be tremendously missed as Libya tries to rebuild.

As though that were not enough, in the aftermath, we got ourselves a political fight.

One may very well argue that Mitt Romney ought to have waited before leveling any criticisms of President Obama’s handling of the riots and attacks in Egypt and Libya and of the initial comments that came from the U.S. embassy in Egypt–the press, of course, is very much in the Obama camp and is willing to do and say a lot in order to make Romney look bad. So Romney very clearly courted their ire by coming out so quickly with his attacks on the administration’s response to the issue. Much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands on the part of the punditocracy has greeted the Romney statement, and plenty of pundits have suggested–if not outright stated–that Romney somehow put partisanship before patriotism by making the statements that he made.

Of course, one can only imagine just how viciously that same press would have turned on a Republican administration in the event that it presided over the calamities in Egypt and Libya. I certainly recall that during the 2004 election season, every time something bad happened in Iraq, John Kerry slammed the Bush administration for its policies and didn’t observe any kind of grace period before doing so. Somehow, someway, the press avoided implying that he was a hyperpartisan who failed to put country first.

Come to think of it, somehow, someway, the press also avoided implying the same about Barack Obama. And in the event that the press finds politicking during these times to be distasteful, perhaps it ought to turn at least some of its fire on the Obama administration:

. . . to argue that Romney’s critique crossed a line and justified the aggressive political response of Obama partisans — as, to pick just one from dozens of ardent Obama partisans in the media, Dana Milbank, does – requires that you ignore completely the substance of Romney’s critique and focus entirely on the timing and tone, which, of course, is what Milbank and the rest of the campaign does.

There are two inconvenient truths that disrupt this party line. First, and foremost, the Obama administration itself acknowledged that the tweets were worthy of criticism. No, they went beyond that: They criticized the tweets and threw the tweeter under the bus, trying to distance the White House as best they could. We know all of this because FP’s own intrepid reporter, Josh Rogin, painstakingly reconstructs the events that precipitated the original Romney comment. Rogin is a reliable Romney critic, so his reporting on this particular issue carries extra weight.

Second, the Obama campaign hardly suspended political operations during the 9/11 anniversary and the unfolding tragedy itself. Stephen Hayes provides a revealing tic-toc of the political activities of the Obama campaign laid side-by-side with events of the day. President Obama himself took time off from managing the crisis to show up on CBS to deliver a partisan attack line against Romney. Obama partisans are reduced to arguing that Team Romney shamefully continued campaigning whilst Team Obama nobly continued campaigning during a day of mourning.

Some pundits have tried to put Romney in a bad spot historically by claiming that both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were much more supportive of Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, and never would have politicized the issue the way that Romney supposedly did. But as Uri Friedman points out, Romney’s reaction in fact very closely mirrors Reagan’s. And as both he and Glenn Reynolds make clear, Barack Obama’s “shoot first aim later” critique of Romney sounds very much like what another Democratic president tried to claim about his Republican critics:

So we have seen this movie before. And the claim that Romney’s actions were somehow unprecedented just don’t fly. Via Patterico, we are invited to wonder just why it is that double standards govern the punditocracy’s reaction to Romney’s statement:

The Obama Presidential campaign jumped on the remarks Wednesday as inappropriate, yet a “senior Administration official” had told the website Politico later on Tuesday night that “The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.” So the White House can walk away from its own diplomats, but Mr. Romney can’t criticize them?

Whatever the timing of the Cairo Embassy’s statements, Mr. Romney is right that a U.S. Embassy ought to ignore YouTube videos produced by obscure cranks. As Tuesday’s events showed, pandering to Islamists who would use the video to inflame anti-American sentiment isn’t going to stop the protests. The video “Innocence of Muslims” is inflammatory and its producer is a fool, but in the U.S. we don’t censor fools.

The broader point is that the attacks on the embassies do raise questions about how America has fared in the world in the last four years. (See above.) Throughout his candidacy, Mr. Romney has supported the necessity of America’s global leadership, sometimes against the wishes of Republican voters. His comments this week are consistent with that worldview, which is also consistent with that of every recent conservative President.

(Emphasis mine.) Of course, while the media is busy doing the bidding of the Obama campaign and bashing Romney, the Obama administration flails about and makes a bad situation worse. The Libyan president, Mohamed Magariaf, and the prime minister, Abdurrahim Keib both condemned the attack and apologized to the United States. But Mohammed Morsi, the president of Egypt, said and did nothing to condemn the attacks in Egypt. To be sure, that merits some kind of response from the United States, but the one the Obama administration issued was an embarrassment. Of Egypt, Barack Obama said “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.” The first part of that sentence got the most attention, and the president had to know that it would. The White House had to walk back the president’s own statement by admitting that by law, “Egypt remains a Major Non-NATO Ally.”

In a just world, more critiques would rain down on this ham-fisted reply to the calamities in both Egypt and Libya–and to the president’s decision to shake it all off by going to Vegas and New York for celebrity fundraisers while the crisis raged. As with other such situations, imagine if George W. Bush devoted time to shaking the money tree while a similar crisis festered during his presidency. Would the press have been silent about it for even a moment?

But of course, we don’t live in a just world. So hypocrisy and double standards color the press’s coverage of this issue. The only thing that can be done, of course, is to vote against the continuation of hypocrisy and double standards when November 6th rolls around. No more powerful message could be sent stating that the country simply will not stand for the media’s dishonesty.

  • DemosthenesVW

    Somebody please tell me, again, why it wasn’t a big deal to elect a man as president who had NEITHER a) foreign policy experience NOR b) executive experience of any kind.

    John McCain would have been a better president for the last four years. Mitt Romney would be a better president for the next four. If Barack Obama gets to make counterfactuals of both those statements, this nation may never fully recover.

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