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As essential facts emerge concerning the September 11 incident in Libya that led to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American embassy staffers, it becomes increasingly obvious that Mitt Romney should have kept his noxious, uninformed, and opportunistic remarks to himself. But Romney’s comments criticizing US diplomatic personnel in the wake of that tragedy have proved him unfit for leadership, even without the damning information that has made him look foolish as well.
There was something truly vile in his statement accusing American diplomats of “sympathizing” with the extremists assaulting their embassy, when they were simply trying to defuse the Muslim anger that posed a grave threat to them and their colleagues. It was all too easy for the Republican candidate to pontificate from a safe podium while American diplomats risk their lives, as they do every day. (And to anyone aware that Romney avoided Vietnam-era military service through a Mormon missionary posting in France, his nonchalant slurring of courageous public servants was especially unbecoming.)
Romney’s smug criticism provoked instantaneous revulsion among former diplomats and foreign policy experts of both parties, mystified and appalled that he would hold the lives of those who serve so cheaply. Visiting an embassy in a dangerous place in the Mideast, East Africa, or South Asia, where the president’s portrait hangs on the wall, it is obvious that the people who work in those places depend heavily on the moral support of their nation’s leaders.
Meanwhile, reporting about the bizarre movie trailer that sparked violence across the Mideast could scarcely be more embarrassing to Romney and his amateurish advisers. Evidently the producers of this thing are a gang of fraudsters and extremists, who misrepresented their project and sought to falsely implicate both Israel and the American Jewish community in America in their inflammatory project. Before Romney decided to line up beside these nutcases, he might have wanted to know that at least several are associated with anti-Mormon as well as anti-Muslim agitation, as journalist Max Blumenthal explains here. Even if the film’s producers weren’t a bunch of crooks and cranks, there would be no contradiction between defending their freedom of speech, as a matter of principle, and criticizing their offensive propaganda. The American values that Romney pretends to uphold – even as he prepares to kowtow to the authoritarians at the Values Voters Summit – certainly don’t prohibit US officials abroad or at home from speaking out against attempts to inflame religious hostility.
Finally, there is a strong stink of intellectual dishonesty tainting the arguments of Romney and his defenders. You will not hear them protest against the government of Israel for its recent attacks on Nobel laureate Gunter Grass, whose poem warning about the Jewish state’s nuclear arsenal evoked the strongest possible condemnations and official strictures against him in Jerusalem. Did those actions violate democratic values and the author’s fundamental rights?
This humiliating episode is still another instance of Romney attempting to borrow a political toughness and consistency that he has never possessed. It is an impulse that has led him repeatedly to make statements that offend American allies, compromise American policies, and injure American prestige.
Nor did Romney and his neoconservative coterie mount the barricades to defend free speech in 2006, when the Bush administration denounced the Danish cartoon of Muhammad that led to mob violence in Europe. Condoleezza Rice, then serving as Secretary of State, clearly saw no contradiction between protecting freedom of speech and rebuking obnoxious speech, both of which served U.S. policy objectives. The State Department issued a response then that she no doubt approved.
Forfeiting the trust of America’s diplomatic corps, Romney has now disqualified himself, again, from world leadership. He seems like some kind of presidential mannequin — cosmetically perfect, yet lightweight and utterly hollow within. He is a contender for least qualified major party presidential candidate in modern history.