Like it or not, the campaign season is a time for candidates to differentiate themselves from their opponent. Further, each candidate who is not the incumbent – in this case Romney – is going to posture himself as Presidential. It might seem that each candidate is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position.
Mitt Romney’s Response To The Obama Administration
On Tuesday, September 11, two separate American embassies were attacked resulting in the deaths of 4 American’s including the American Ambassador to Libya. Mitt Romney, attempting to demonstrate a difference between himself and Obama, used the developing situation as a foil.
At around 10:00 PM EDT Romney issues a statement:
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. 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.
The response that Romney was referring to?
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others
Was Romney right? Is this response appropriate or not?
The answer – It depends.
The Embassy Attack Timeline
It all depends on the timeline of events. For example, I was off-line most of yesterday afternoon and only this morning woke up to the news of the attack. Upon hearing of the Egyptian embassy release I had two thoughts:
- When protestors are attacking your location, you don’t issue statements that legitimatize those attacking you.
- Knowing that protestors had already murdered 4 embassy staff in Libya, the Egyptian staff may simply have been acting to save their lives.
Only later did I investigate the timeline and discovered that . And it looks something like this:
- 06:17 – The Cairo embassy issues their statement.
- 10:00 – Crowds begin to form at the Cairo embassy.
- 14:47 – Protesters in Cairo tear down the U.S. flag.
- 14:00 – Crowds began to gather at Libyan embassy.
- 18:00 – Protestors in Libya storm the embassy.
- 19:17 – Reports of an American consulate staff shot dead.
- 20:00 – Cairo embassy staff Tweets affirmation of morning’s statement.
- 22:00 – Obama administration disavows Cairo statement.
- 22:30 – Romney issues statement.
It’s clear that there is confusion surrounding the events of the situation in Egypt and that such confusion colored the context of the Cairo statement. For example, if we believe that the embassy in Cairo released their statement long before the attack on the embassy, their message is better phrased. However, if their statement is released AFTER the attacks on the Cairo embassy, their statements are grossly irresponsible.
And I think both Romney and Obama were confused by the timing of the statement.
The Politics of Cairo and Libya Attacks
It’s no secret that Romney has little if any foreign relations experience. Obama is going to, he has to, use this in his critique of the governor. However, most candidates for the office of President have that exact same knock against them. This would include our sitting President Barack Obama when he was a contender just 4 years ago. That being said, Romney is anxious to demonstrate that he has a firm grasp on matters foreign. Enter the Mideastern violence.
To further complicate matters, Romney and Obama are not only working to manage the chaotic real time events overseas, but they are also keeping an eye on the “campaign ball.” I feel that had both Romney and Obama been less concerned with that campaign and more concerned with providing leadership, remaining calm in a very charged circumstance and gathered all facts, neither the administration or the Romney camp issued their remarks. See, at 11:00 PM, the Obama administration distanced itself from the Cairo embassy remarks. In fact, they mentioned that they do not represent the United States. Here, Obama is making the same mistake Romney makes; they are confused by the timing of the statement. Seen in the calm of day, the statement issued by Cairo are completely appropriate. Further, adding that the statements don’t reflect the United States government only adds to the confusion coming from the United States. If an embassy doesn’t represent the government, what is its role?
When the administration issued it’s statement on Cairo at 11:00 pm, I suspect that Romney felt more confident that the Cairo statement was issued AFTER the violence and not many hours before. This mistake, now seen to be true, leads to his remarks that the administration is, in essence, apologizing. I feel relatively confident that Romney was acting on facts as he thought they were and not twisting the timeline to his political favor. However, the light of day indeed showed his statements to be inaccurate.
Mitt Romney Remarks on Libya and Cairo
Notice Romney standing before a blue background framed by the American flags. Clearly an attempt to appear Presidential. Romney takes the tone of the gentle leader. He’s reporting to America and is trying to show he’s present and managing the situation.
He speaks to the following:
- Issues condolences
- Issues statement on American’s stance on values
- Critiques the Obama administration on the handling of the events
- Embraces the Arab Spring and the potential it has
- Takes questions
My thoughts on his statements:
- He completes the reassuring leader role very well.
- At 3:25 he’s asked a question surrounding his statement from the night before. I think he knows the facts now but doesn’t own up to the fact. This is where he’s clearly weak and wrong.
- He doubles down on the mistake by referring to Cairo’s statement as an apology.
- When pushed further on this point, Romney acknowledges that the administration had the exact same reaction that he did. In this, he’s right. Both Obama and Romney were confused at the timing of Cairo’s statements and Tweets.
- At 4:50 Romney is pushed to explain that if both he and Obama took the exact same reaction, what did the White House do wrong. Here is where Romney gathers steam. He’s right when he claims that Cairo is part of Obama’s administration. He’s right to say that a leader has to take responsibility for his administration. It’s in this understand of “how things work” that Obama’s critic are correct in leveling the claim that Obama has no leadership experience. That this is apparent to a 2nd level manager and not to the President of the United States is frightening.
- Again he mentions apology. He slips and is weak by doing that.
- When asked if it’s appropriate to engage in politics when the events are ongoing. His answer is powerful.
- He correctly brushes off the trap of hypothetical nonsense.
- He’s asked to define his foreign policy. And does so very well. The first “branch” as he calls it is to have “Confidence in our cause.” I think that he hits a home run with this one. Obama’s critics, e among them, distrust the President greatly. We don’t believe that Obama appreciates the things that makes America great. We think that he resents the abuses America has perpetuated around the world. And if Romney can verbalize the feeling we have, put brackets around this mistrust, he’ll make significant inroads.
Romney made some mistakes, however, those mistakes were made by both Obama and Romney. But his morning press interview went very well.
One last thing, Obama has a reputation for being a strong speaker. I’ve never felt that. I think he delivers a strong speech and can move audiences but his ability to speak succinctly in an ad hoc situation is horrible. Notice that Romney never pauses, hhmms or haws or takes time to struggle with his next words. He’s confident and clear in what he’s trying to say.