13 September 2012

Cairo, Benghazi, lies and disgrace

In addition to the tragic loss of our ambassador in Libya, J. Christopher Stevens - who has been remembered as a good man and a great representative of the United States to the Libyan people and one who led a life of service to his country - and three other Americans who served with him in Benghazi, there was another tragic loss this week: the truth. 

That has seemed to happen a lot in this presidential campaign cycle.  It happens in every cycle, but they seem particularly egregious in this one, with Representative Ryan leading the way. 

Surrounding the events in the Mideast this week there were some shocking missteps and some decidedly un-presidential statements.  Here are the facts, as I understand them - and as inconvenient as they are. 

1. Someone made a very amateurish (think high school - fake beards and all) film that bashes Islam. We don't yet know who made it, but the LA Times is leading the investigation. From their article in this morning's print edition:
A man who identified himself as an Israeli American filmmaker claimed in telephone calls to news outlets Tuesday that he made the movie with backing from wealthy Jewish donors, but there were indications Wednesday that the name and story he gave were false and that the movie was tied to a group of Middle Eastern Christians who live in the U.S. and hold extreme anti-Islamic views.
Okay, a couple of things.  If true, that is disturbing - a Christian person or group posing as Jews to provoke and inflame Muslim sentiment even more than if they acted on their own behalf (though Christians blaming Jews for things for which they aren't responsible isn't exactly new [remember the Bubonic Plague?]).  Also, actors and crew members involved in making the movie were lied to - they were told it was a film called "Desert Warrior," and after a week of shooting was wrapped whole stretches of it were re-dubbed to give it its inflammatory narrative.  
*Update - 13-Sep-2012, 19:45 PT: " Christian Charity, ex-convict linked to film ".

2. Eventually a fourteen minute trailer was made of this dreck, translated into Arabic and uploaded onto YouTube. 

3. The trailer slowly gets disseminated, word spreads, tensions rise.  In what he surely must have known was a vain attempt to diffuse the tension that was growing on the streets of Cairo, Senior Public Affairs Officer Larry Schwartz in the US Embassy drafted a statement, got local approval from a supervisor in Cairo to release it and then sent it to DC for final approval.  That approval was explicitly denied.  Schwartz "...ignored explicit State Department instructions not to issue the statement," according to Josh Rogan in a must read article on this affair in Foreign Policy, and yet Schwartz released it anyway early Tuesday (06:16 ET / 12:18 Cairo local time). It read in part:
"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."
Officials in the US State Department in DC immediately - and Secretary Clinton and President Obama subsequently - strenuously disavowed the statement for, among other things, not carrying a full throated defense of freedom of speech and denunciation of violence. 

4. As the day passed, people in Cairo and the rest of the Arab world grew more agitated by this "film" and its offensive stereotyping of their religion and its founding prophet. Many were inspired to - or used this as cover to - riot in the streets and burn American flags.  (To be clear, I am a free speech absolutist, and have written about this before on BLC, here. Religious extremism is always disgusting, and violence incited by "blasphemy" is simply baffling.  Never excusable or warranted.)

5. Throughout the afternoon the Cairo embassy re-releases part of its statement on its Twitter feed.

6. Late in the evening the US Embassy in Benghazi is attacked, and overnight and into the early morning four people are killed. 

7. It's now 20:00 ET / 02:00 Cairo local time, and Governor Romney's camp learns about the attach in Benghazi and about the first casualties in Libya.  There is no word yet as to who the casualties are, or what exactly has happened as the situation is still unfolding. At that moment, the US Embassy in Benghazi was still under attack. Governor Romney's advisers press him to make a statement - while the US Embassy in Benghazi was still under attack. Top Policy Advisor Mr. Lanhee Chen released a statement - while the US Embassy was still under attack - saying "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" in response to the Cairo embassy statement.

You know what's disgraceful? It's disgraceful that while people who have dedicated their lives in service to our nation were under attack Governor Romney elected to politicize it. 

If you've been paying attention here, you'll note that a.) the statement issued by the Cairo embassy PRECEDED the attack on both the embassy in Benghazi that resulted in American casualties and the  attack on the Cairo embassy itself, so calling it "the Obama Administration's first response is factually wrong, and b.) that the Cairo statement was NOT approved of by the administration and was in fact denied approval by supervisors in Washington, so again, factually wrong. 

Or again from Foreign Affairs:
Romney has said, wrongly, that the statement was the administration's first response to the protests, but the official said that the demonstrations did not begin until 4 p.m. Cairo time and protesters breached the wall about 2 hours later. 
How did this happen?  According Greg Sargent in a Washington Post piece, here, Mr Romney's senior advisor, Mr. Chen, said: "We've had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama's foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique."

Never mind that our sovereignty was under attack or that Americans were being killed, this fits our narrative and therefore we should make political hay.  Never mind that we don't know all the facts.  Never mind that the "consistent critique and narrative" of President Obama as an apologist gets "Four Pinnochios" for being factually incorrect to start with - the Romney campaign will do anything to score political points regardless of the dictates of the national interest, regardless of facts, regardless of common human decency. 

When the facts became apparent later, what did Mr. Romney do?  Did he walk back his statement, or apologize?  No.  He repeated the statement and lied some more. 

That a presidential challenger should inject himself into an unfolding international crisis in which Americans are underfire is unprecedented.  As pointed out in an article in the Atlantic online, Ronald Reagan showed sober restraint in 1980 when the mission directed by President Carter to free our hostages in Iran failed, saying: "This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united." Compare that to:
I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.
(Full statement here.) That is Mr Romney speaking the morning AFTER, when the facts of the timeline outlined above was more or less known.  He repeated the lie, and went further.

Disgusting.  Deceitful.  Designed to reinforce the "Big Lie" - President Obama apologizes for America - and repeat it over and over and over, so that people who want to believe it will believe it.
It's also un-American to use a national loss to try and score political points.

Mr. Chen asserted that Mr. Obama has had a "feckless" foreign policy.  Mr. Romney's campaign released a false statement saying that Mr. Obama's "first response" was "disgraceful". 

There are disgraceful acts and words in this episode, but they are not Mr. Obama's. 

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