UPDATE: Romney speaks out
It's an incident with the potential to stir real outrage across the United States. An angry mob of Islamists attacks the U.S. embassy in Cairo, occupying the grounds, tearing up the American flag, and waving 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."
How did the United States respond? 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.
It seems likely -- more than likely -- that the incident will become part of the presidential campaign. Much of Tuesday's news was dominated by ceremonies marking the 9/11 anniversary, and the Romney campaign, not wanting to violate the spirit of the day, did not take the offensive against President Obama over the Cairo incident, or anything else. But on Wednesday the campaign will start up again, and the question is whether Romney will attack the Obama administration's response to events in Egypt.
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 issue is of a different sort altogether. A direct attack by a mob on an American embassy, involving 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 could give Romney a clear opening. What the Republican candidate will do with that opening, however, is not clear.