Few people must envy the Republican campaign after its spectacular Libyan debacle. What could and should have been an opportunity for America's squabbling politicians to continue their truce to mark the anniversary of 9/11 following the tragic killing of Chris Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans on Tuesday night, has turned into a cringe-worthy display of Romney's crass irreverence.
It all began when protesters gathered outside the US embassies in Cairo and Benghazi to protest against an anti-Islam film produced by an American, Sam Bacile, which depicts the Prophet Muhammed as a womanizer, child-molester and imposter. Previously the US Embassy in Cairo had posted a statement online condemning "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions". When the news that a US official had been killed trickled out in the evening, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a solemn statement condemning "in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today…Some have sought to justify this vicious behaviour as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others…But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
These statements certainly did not warrant Romney's violent outburst as he branded the Obama administration's response "disgraceful" for sympathising with "those who waged the attacks" before condemning them himself. Not only was Romney's rash statement a blistering example of political opportunism, as he proved unable to put on any façade of dignified statesmanship, but it was also an embarrassing episode of shoddy fact-checking on the part of his campaign. The statement by the US Embassy in Cairo had, after all, been released before the attacks actually started as it was trying to mollify the rapidly rising tempers. The fact that Romney was undeterred in his political attacks on Wednesday morning, when it was clear that the Ambassador and three other officials had been killed, and in fact chose to stoke the flames further by arranging a press conference, only served to highlight his flimsy grasp of the situation.
“The statement that came from the Administration was a statement which is akin to apology. And I think was a severe miscalculation.” Alas, dear Mitt, the severe miscalculation was yours alone. Most of his fellow Republicans, including his running mate Paul Ryan, steered clear of partisan bickering in their messages on the attack. The contrast between the Obama administration’s sombre tone and Romney’s bluster could not be any more blatant. Given that Romney was considered, until now at least, one of the most moderate Republican candidates, this episode is likely to tarnish his image. After two years of gruelling partisan strife in Congress, Romney ought to have perceived that Americans would not want every news story concerning America turned into a political campaigning instrument.
Not only did he miss an opportunity to start a reasonable foreign policy debate, but he decidedly squandered it. After being criticised for not mentioning the war in Afghanistan in his speech to last month’s Republican convention, Romney could have rectified this omission and shown that he is mildly competent when it comes to foreign policy matters. Instead his ineptitude stood out like a sore thumb.
He also failed to grasp the mood of the American public, who are disillusioned with just about everything, yet nothing quite disheartens them as much as the sluggish pace of the economy and the steady stream of lukewarm news on the job situation. It is a well-known fact that the overriding issue that will shape the outcome of November’s election is the economy, and that it is also the Obama administration’s Achilles’ heel. So quite why Romney blindly pounced on the attacks in Libya is frankly puzzling. What is certain is that his ill-conceived exploit has spectacularly boomeranged.
By Julia Fioretti