The Associated Press EXAMINES Mitt Romney’s effort to politicize a diplomatic crisis:
The gunfire at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, had barely ceased when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seriously mischaracterized what had happened in a statement accusing President Barack Obama of “disgraceful” handling of violence there and at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
“The Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” Romney said in a statement first emailed to reporters at 10:09 p.m. Eastern time, under the condition it not be published until midnight.
In fact, neither a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier in the day nor a later statement from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered sympathy for attackers. The statement from the Cairo Embassy had condemned anti-Muslim religious incitement before the embassy walls were breached. In her statement, issued minutes before Romney’s, Clinton had offered the administration’s first response to the violence in Libya, explicitly condemning the attack there and confirming the death of a State Department official.
Early Tuesday morning, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo got word that demonstrators, angry about an anti-Islamic film produced in the U.S., were gathering in the streets. It issued a safety warning to Americans: Stay out of the streets.
As the situation became increasingly tense— but while the crowd was still peaceful — the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning what it called “religious incitement” as it worked to calm the tensions.
“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,” the embassy said at 6:18 a.m. EDT, shortly after noon Cairo time.
That’s the statement that Romney referred to as the administration’s “first response.” By Wednesday morning, the Republican nominee was at a podium in Jacksonville, Fla., saying that statement “appeared to be an apology for American principles.” It’s a theme Romney has hammered against Obama throughout his presidential campaign, including in his campaign book, “No Apology.”
But the embassy’s condemnation of religious incitement hardly amounted to an apology.