Mitt Romney’s decision to insert politics into the fast-moving events in northern Africa and the Middle East was an example of poor judgment and poorer politics. Regardless of his party, we’d expect better from a man who is one step away from the White House.
By jumping so fast into the fray, the Romney campaign mischaracterized the Obama administration’s initial statement on the situation — which was issued before the diplomat’s death — and then erred by claiming a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo was in response to both the Lybian and Egyptian violence.
In truth, the worst aspect of Romney’s ill-timed presidential barb is the attention it eventually removed from the real story: the death of diplomat Chris Stevens and the growing unrest in Muslim nations in reaction to an anti-Muslim film made in California.
Obama was right to call Stevens’ death “a national tragedy.” Stevens was a long-time diplomat committed to serving his nation overseas and who particularly enjoyed working alongside people from northern Africa and Middle East nations — places where the dangers of religious unrest are commonplace. Stevens was a standout among the United States’ diplomatic corps.
We’d like to believe that this latest round of anti-American unrest will ebb as fast as it blossomed. But events of the last 18 months are less-than assuring, considering how the Arab Spring movements in Egypt and other nations last year are still simmering.
Two actions are necessary: determining those responsible for the death of Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, and keeping a level head among the hawks who advocate urgent military retaliation against Libya. Both actions require equal attention.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were right to denounce the violence and vow to seek justice for killings. Neither Stevens, American diplomats in Libya nor the U.S. government had anything to do with the film that has ignited this spasm of hostility outside American embassies in Islamic countries. It was unjustified and appalling. Justice is deserved.
Likewise, the United States should be firm yet cautious in its use of military action in its response. We applaud the show of force seen in the sending of two battleships to the Libyan coast. That puts visible strength behind Obama’s vow. But any use of that strength should not be done with a wide, indiscriminate swath of bombs and guns.
If anything, Washington should answer urgent questions about our diplomatic outposts in Islamic nations. Are the security measures in Benghazi indicative of those at our other embassies in the Middle East and Africa? There should be strong concern that American facilities in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Jordan — places where uprisings over this film are taking place — must be bolstered against this type of mob-ruled insurgencies.
There are lessons to be learned from this week’s tragedy, and not all of them involve politicians’ tendencies to make things worse by opening their mouths.