Election 2012: Politicians react like politicians after Libya attack

An attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya killed four people, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, on Sept. 11. The attacks were allegedly in response to an American-made video that insults the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Because the news came on the 11-year anniversary of September 11, there has even been speculation that al-Qaeda may have been involved in this attack.

So how is this related to the election? This international tragedy has turned into the latest political debate among the two presidential campaigns. It started in Egypt where protests broke out in response to the video. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement, saying that it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," and that it rejects "the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Although the video wasn't specifically mentioned, the State Department confirmed that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had suffered a breach as a result of the protests. "We did have reports," the State Department said, "that we had a protest outside our embassy in Cairo. We had some people breach the wall, take the flag down, replace...With a black flag...We are obviously working with Egyptian security to try to restore order at the embassy and to work with them to try to get the situation under control."

Conservative bloggers reacted with criticism, saying that this statement was too much like an "apology" rather than a straight condemnation of the attacks. Once news of the attacks was confirmed and victims were identified, reactions started flowing in. The Romney campaign released the following statement, which was originally embargoed (prohibited from press release in respect of 9/11):

“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. 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.”

This response set off a flood of other reactions. "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement after Mitt Romney's accusatory response. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted, "Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic."

The Obama campaign finally released a statement, saying “We are shocked 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.”

President Barack Obama later said in a statement that he "condemns" the horrible attacks. But this did not stop Romney from further criticizing Obama and reiterating his earlier response. After rearranging a campaign stop in Florida, Romney held a press conference on Sept. 12 to address the issue.

"I also believe 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," Romney said. "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."

Even Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan jumped into the foray, using the attacks to discuss America's role in the world.  "In the face of such a tragedy, we are reminded that the world needs American leadership. And the best guarantee of peace is American strength," Ryan said at a campaign stop in Wisconsin.

This back and forth between the campaign highlights the little-discussed fact that foreign policy has not played a big role in this campaign. Although foreign policy has been a central issue in past campaigns, the economy has pushed international issues to the background.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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