A chorus of critics, including some conservatives, has since condemned the Republican presidential nominee for launching a political attack in the midst of a crisis. And Romney’s timing was, indeed, terrible. But his statement was offensive on many other levels.
Romney was wrong on the facts. The alleged expression of sympathy was issued not by President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but by the US embassy in Cairo, in response to protests in Egypt. It came before protesters had breached the walls of the Cairo embassy, and before any reports of deaths in Libya.
Romney was wrong on substance. The statement from the Cairo embassy said the United States condemns “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” In the midst of massing protests, this statement was a wise act of diplomacy. It sought to correct the notion that the US government was somehow responsible for the YouTube video. It aimed to quell the protests and prevent bloodshed.
Romney was wrong as a matter of policy. As the candidate explained at a press conference Wednesday morning, he lashed out at the Cairo statement because it amounted to “an apology for American values.” Romney has relentlessly portrayed Obama’s efforts to present American actions in terms likely to lessen tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere as “apologies,” without any real evidence. He still has none. The Cairo statement was, in fact, an affirmation of an American value — the freedom of religion.