Even granting that everything is political in an election year, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was way out of line in his jump-the-gun response to the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the deadly attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Romney accused the Obama administration of apologizing to the protesters and showing more sympathy for them than for protecting American interests.
That was just flat wrong.
First, the statements he referred to were issued by the embassy in Cairo before any protest had occurred and disavowed the movie "Innocence of Muslims" for denigrating a religious faith. The statement did not come from the White House, which did not endorse the statement; nor did the statement itself apologize. Yes, the statement was not a strong defense of free speech and did not discourage the protest. But it was hardly a statement of sympathy for violence or murder.
And the word from Washington -- from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- never suggested any sympathy with violent protest, let alone sympathy with those who kill our people.
Second, Romney spoke out after word that Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three others had been killed at the consulate in Benghazi.
Politics should have gone on hold right then. Traditionally, and wisely, Americans swiftly close ranks when our people abroad are attacked and killed. Romney did not.
Modern presidential politics is a 24/7, rapid-fire business. That always-on quality can make for an entertaining circus but only when lives are not at stake.
Much was still unclear when Romney began criticizing the president and as the facts emerged Romney found himself out on a limb, with even other Republican leaders keeping their distance from his criticism. He's refused to retract what he said, focusing in one interview on how long the Cairo embassy's first statement was up on its website, as if that carried more weight than the president's own words. And the suggestion that the administration shows more sympathy for the protesters than for American lives or values is ludicrous.
He'd have been wiser and statesmanlike to say something like: "Our ambassador and others have been killed in an inexcusable attack. All of us mourn their loss, pray for their families and honor their service today." When asked the inevitable questions about the administration's policies, he simply could have said: "It's no secret I have serious differences with much of the president's foreign policy. I'll have plenty to say about those differences. For now, let's find out exactly what happened in Libya, let's support full protection for our diplomats around the world and bring any who attack our people abroad to justice."
The explosiveness in parts of the Middle East, the targeting of Americans and the high stakes involved didn't begin with the Obama administration. But the "Arab Spring" and its aftermath have raised plenty of questions about the president's foreign policy -- its purpose, its tone, its effectiveness. The nation should hear what the candidates have to say about them.
But last week Mitt Romney chose the wrong time and the wrong words, and in the process revealed more about himself than about the president's policies.
BOTTOM LINE: Romney steps over an old American line after deadly attack in Libya.