Romney, Inhofe Exploit American Deaths

Protests against American embassies in the Middle East continue in apparent response to a “film” that espouses anti-Islamic views, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has politicized the issue with distorted information.

Does Romney believe his election bid supersedes the safety of American diplomats? The protests in Libya, for example, led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Protests have occurred in Egypt and Yemen, and the situation in other Middle East countries is undoubtedly precarious.

Romney’s response to the deaths was to point out a tweet from the embassy in Cairo that essentially condemned the film and then tie that tweet to President Barack Obama. But the tweet wasn’t approved by the White House, and it hardly constitutes an example of an apology or a gesture of sympathy with the Libyan attackers as Romney and his camp seemingly argued. The tweet actually came before the Libyan attack.

As Andrew Sullivan, who outlines the tweet’s history and Romney’s response, argues:

These people [the Romney camp] are simply unfit for the responsibility of running the United States. The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.

Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, another Republican, also used the deaths to try to score political points against President Barack Obama even as events unfolded and facts remained murky. His comments were irresponsible and knee jerk, too.

According to Inhofe, Obama is to blame for the attacks because of a “policy of appeasement”:

Sadly, America has suffered as a result of President Obama’s failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology. The world must know beyond doubt that America will not allow these types of attacks on our people. Obama’s failed leadership is in direct contrast with Ambassador Stevens' brave leadership and effort to protect Americans at the consulate.

The appeasement trope is a standard and fictional GOP talking point this election year, which is bad enough, but trying to score political points as the safety of Americans abroad remained in immediate jeopardy—as in right this moment—is reprehensible. There will be time enough later for political hyperbole. Right now, the U.S. needs to secure its embassies and find out more about the so-called film titled Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Muslim screed that depicts the Prophet Muhammad in unflattering terms. U.S. officials have also said the attacks in Libya may have been planned well in advanced and may have nothing to do with the film.

As I write this, it’s still unknown exactly who made and financed the film in the U.S. or why it was made in the first place. Can it even be considered a film in the traditional sense? Was it made to incite protests? A trailer of the film, which is extremely amateurish and crude, has been circulating on the Internet in recent weeks.

Obviously, the national media is covering the film’s fallout, and the pundits are weighing it, but I have two points to make about Inhofe’s statement, which will probably go unnoticed in the national media.

Inhofe’s statement is obvious political hyperbole and exaggeration, and, of course, he has the right to make it. It also didn’t distort basic facts like Romney’s statement did. This is the difference between crass political rhetoric and actual documented lying. However, Inhofe’s reaction should be criticized for taking a hardline stance when American lives are in immediate jeopardy. Could the expression of such a stance add fuel to the protests? The U.S. should secure its embassies, remove personnel if it has to, and then Inhofe can play politics, though it’s pretty clear where former President George W. Bush’s aggressive war policies have led us. Inhofe could have easily waited a couple of days before turning tragedy into a political opportunity.

Inhofe is not known for holding moderate views. He has made the point that all terrorists are Muslims (see the above video) and he has claimed global warming is a hoax. Extremism begets extremism. It’s only the perspective that matters to the individual. Obviously, Inhofe has never stormed an embassy in a religious rage, but his divisive rhetoric creates intolerance and perpetuates indefinite conflict. Some Americans get a visceral kick out of this, but after years of two military occupations (or wars if you must) surely it’s time for a different approach. Does Inhofe want us to invade Libya, even though its government has harshly condemned the killings? Does he even have a real point beyond opposing Obama?