Beyond the Water’s Edge
Editor’s Note: This article was originally scheduled to run on the morning of September 13. Because of the increased interest in the topic, its publication has been moved forward to the evening of September 12. As a result, we will not be running our usual Thursday morning article.
Politics stops at the water’s edge.
— Senator Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg
Arthur Vandenberg was the Republican Senator from Michigan from 1935 until his death in 1951. Senator Vandenberg was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and worked with President Harry S Truman to create the United Nations. After World War II, when Vandenberg publicly changed his stance from isolationism to internationalism, he coined the famous maxim above.
Mitt Romney was born in Detroit in 1947 to a Michigan Republican political family. Romney’s father was the Governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969 and his mother made a failed run at the Class 1 Senate seat once held by Vandenberg and now held by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Republicans used to actively participate in a muscular foreign policy in collaboration with Democratic Presidents and Congressmen. There were giants in the earth in those days. In a time before small-minded Republicans trumpeted small-minded ideas like the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory or the supposed imposition of Sharia law on U.S. communities, Republicans actually worked side-by-side with Democrats to bring to life Vandenberg’s maxim. Whatever differences we might have across the aisle in the halls of Congress were set aside so the United States could present a united foreign policy front.
As politics has become more partisan, now Congress feels the need to interfere in foreign policy, whether within the same party or between parties. Witness the internecine struggle over the status of Jerusalem which popped up this year as the Supreme Court case Zivotofsky v. Clinton.
Between parties, a debate over the Israeli response to Iranian nuclear ambitions and this Tuesday’s attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and a U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt have roiled the U.S. Presidential election.
On Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, armed mobs overran the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American citizens. Stevens was present to oversee the evacuation of the consulate when he was trapped in the consulate and killed.
A protest against an obscure anti-Islamic film was the proximal cause of the Benghazi protest. At the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, a riot broke out simultaneously with the Benghazi protests. While no one was killed in Cairo, protesters scaled the wall and took down the American flag.
It now appears that anti-government radical Islamists in Benghazi took advantage of the turmoil to mount a coördinated, perhaps pre-planned, assault on the consulate.
In both Cairo and Benghazi, the protests appear to have been organized on Facebook and were in response to a film which insults the Prophet Mohammed.
If one assumes the film has artistic value — apparently, a generous assumption — the film’s auteur is “Sam Bacile” (rhymes with “imbecile”), a man who says he is a Los Angeles real estate developer and Israeli citizen who gathered donations of $5 million to make this (literal) bomb. “Sam Bacile” gave interviews to the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, but more recent reports indicate he doesn’t exist at all. Whoever he is, he is responsible for shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre, resulting in the deaths of four Americans. From The Guardian:
The film [“Innocence of Muslims”] claims Muhammad was a fraud. An English-language 13-minute trailer on YouTube shows an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults disguised as revelations about Muhammad, whose obedient followers are presented as a cadre of goons.
It depicts Muhammad as a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse.
Anticipating the protest after seeing the invitations, the American Embassy in Cairo sent their staff home and issued a presumably preemptive statement, which failed in fending off the protest:
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.
The Obama Administration blew a gasket (figuratively and diplomatically, of course) when they found out the Cairo Embassy was freelancing.
The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney came out firing. In a prepared statement Tuesday night, he 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.
Told by reporters that 1) the supposed “apology” for the embassy invasion preceded the attacks and 2) the Obama Administration had repudiated the embassy’s statement, Romney refused to walk back his Tuesday night statement. Instead, he doubled down at a Wednesday morning press conference.
The embassy is the administration … the President takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth, but also the words that come from his ambassadors, from his embassies, from his State Department. …
The administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values. The White House distanced itself last night from the statement saying it wasn’t cleared by Washington. That reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world.
Let me see if I can break down Romney’s rather convoluted statement.
- Romney says the administration “stood by” words that do “not reflect the views of the United States government” according to an official spokesperson.
- Romney says the administration did not condemn the attacks that they condemned.
- Romney says President Obama does not “defend our values”. (This one is unprovable either way, since I’m pretty sure that Romney’s values and my values might be different, so I’ll let it pass.)
- Romney says that the White House “distanced itself … from the statement” so he then contradicts his statement #1.
- He sums up by accusing the President of sending “mixed signals”.
So after violating Vandenberg’s maxim, showing us that his clumsy way with foreign policy in London, Tel Aviv and Warsaw was not merely a one-off mistake, and then bending himself in a logical pretzel in order to attempt to criticize the President, Candidate Romney accuses the Administration of sending “mixed signals”.
In a perhaps related development, President Obama’s staff has announced he is “too busy” to meet with Israeli Prime Minister (and Romney BFF) Binyamin Netanyahu when the Israeli leader visits the U.N. in New York later this month.
What do you think? Was Romney right to criticize the President? Is the President responding appropriately? What, if anything, should be done about “Sam Bacile”?
- ‘US ambassador killed in Libya in riots over anti-Islam film’ (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Photos of attack on U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya (riehlworldview.com)
- Anti-Islam Film Sparks Libya, Egypt Protests — NPR (npr.org)
- US Free Speech? Bah, Humbug! (bakulaji.typepad.com)
- “Libya Surprise” Could Be Death Knell for Romney Campaign (newyorker.com)
- Israeli producer of anti-Islam movie that sparked attacks says he made it to help his country (mondoweiss.net)