The sanctity of ambassadors and other diplomats is in the proverbial article one, section one of international law, and your ability to do it is as good a proxy as there is for whether you are a real country or a barbarian rabble. The murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans (two of whom may be U.S. Marines) in Benghazi is thus both a tragedy and an outrage. It is also a political set piece in the presidential election.
Should that be true? Of course not. But lots of things are true that shouldn’t be. Politically — and substantially — Mitt Romney’s response to the obsequiousness of the U.S. embassy in Cairo in the wake of the attacks on it was right on. But he’s been screwed by the timing.
If I’ve got it straight, here’s the actual order of events: 1) U.S. diplomats in Cairo shamefully apologize more or less preemptively for private U.S. citizens exercising their First Amendment rights in a way that “hurts the religious feelings” of Muslims. 2) “Protests” intensify into attacks on embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi. 3) Romney calls Cairo embassy response disgraceful. 4) Reports of murders of Americans in Benghazi confirmed. 5) Obama administration disavows Cairo embassy line. 6) Obama campaign flack LaBolt shames Romney for politicizing murders.
But the instant narrative from the media is that Romney “jumped the gun,” that he has used the death of Americans as a campaign prop and broken the sacred rule that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” Except that’s not what happened at all. Cairo jumped the gun on its controllers in Washington, and by the time Cairo’s disgraceful response filtered out into the media ether it was being rendered more disgraceful still by the violent turn the protests took, and Romney rightly condemned it as disgraceful. The Obama administration then caught up to Romney and muzzled Cairo. So how is Romney the one with the bad messaging here?
His initial statement had nothing to do with Ambassador Stevens’s murder. Yet just about the same time the Obama administration starts un$&%*ing its response to the crisis, Obama’s political hatchet man (not even his White House press secretary!) starts condemning Romney for politicizing it.
Thus, Romney’s awkward spot. The media has already showed it is going to be of no help in clarifying any of the above, being far more interested in “WHAT ABOUT THE GAAAAAAAAFFFES?!” style questions. So Romney is going to have to be the bigger man and say something like “I was heartened to see President Obama disavow the remarks of his administration’s staff in Cairo and I will pray for him to find the wisdom and courage to address these heinous attacks in a way that brings justice to the dead and ensures the security of our diplomats abroad.”
Romney doesn’t deserve the rap he’s gotten on this, but as Clint Eastwood might say, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.
UPDATE: Politico shares my understanding of the order of events, and points out that other Republicans are leaving Romney’s cheese out in the wind. I can’t wait for all the fact checks! I’ll make a deal with my Obama-supporting friends. We’ll trade you Citizens United for a media this compliant.
UPDATE II: I should have been clearer that the Romney statement came after an initial report of a possible death in Libya, but before the deaths of Ambassador Stevens, and three other Americans, were actually confirmed.