Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is condemning the Obama administration's apologetic response to September 11 attacks on United States diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya. The Libyan attack, in Benghazi, reportedly left an American official dead. In the Egyptian attack, in Cairo, an angry mob of Islamist radicals attacked the U.S. embassy, occupied the grounds, tore up the American flag, and waved the banner of al Qaeda -- all on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to a Washington Post report, the protesters "said they were demonstrating against anti-Islamic attitudes in the United States and an alleged film in the U.S. that insulted the Prophet Mohammed." The attackers in Libya were reportedly angry about the same film.
The United States responded not by condemning the Egyptian attackers but by condemning anyone who might have "hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." An apologetic statement released by the U.S. embassy expressed offense at those who might have upset Muslim sensibilities but did not express any outrage, or even disapproval, of those who would storm a U.S. embassy and destroy the American flag. Here is the statement released Tuesday by the U.S. embassy, in its entirety:
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. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Late Tuesday, after eschewing hard-edged political statements in observance of the 9/11 anniversary, Romney released a statement on the violence. "I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said. "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."
Romney's words are likely to be just the first in a heated discussion of the Mideast attacks and the administration's response to them. Romney, playing defense on national security after taking much Democratic criticism for his failure to mention U.S. troops during his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Tampa, is said to be readying responses to Obama on a range of foreign policy issues, including the administration's dealings with Israel over the Iranian nuclear threat.
But the Egypt and Libya attacks are a different sort of issue. Direct attack by mobs on an American embassy, involving death, the destruction of a U.S. flag and the invoking of al Qaeda -- on September 11, of all days -- will certainly stir outrage among many Americans. And the Obama administration's weak, apologizing response will likely prompt a strong Republican response in days to come.
UPDATE: About an hour and a half after Romney released his "disgraceful" statement, the Obama campaign released a statement of its own. "We are shocked," the statement said, "that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack."