The murders of US diplomats in Libya and the attempted storming of the US Embassy in Cairo took place 56 days before the election of America’s next president.
Apparently, it is the view of much of the mainstream media and foreign-policy establishment that discussing these horrific events in the course of the presidential campaign is monstrous.
One might think that these custodians of the public good would wish the discussion to be of nothing else. The United States and its representatives abroad have been attacked, and in a manner that threatens to spread like wildfire. You’d think everyone would agree it’s time to talk foreign policy.
Oh, no. In the precincts of America’s Most High, the worst evil done yesterday was Mitt Romney daring to broach the subject and use it to criticize President Obama’s foreign policy.
Cairo embassy personnel put out a problematic statement on Tuesday designed to mollify angry protesters upset by an anti-Islamic movie: “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.”
This was explicitly intended, and rightly taken, as an apology for the conduct of Americans who insulted Islam — as though it were the place of Cairo embassy personnel to deliver such apologies on behalf of the US government for the conduct of its private citizens, no matter how noxious that conduct might be.
Nine hours later, the Romney campaign released a statement implicitly linking that apology to Obama’s larger foreign policy: “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.”
Plainly recognizing the political potency of this line, the White House quickly repudiated the Cairo statement.
Then, in the middle of the night, came word of just how horrific and deadly the killings in Benghazi had been. And also word that embassy staff had put up the Cairo statement before, not during, the attempted siege.
And so descended from On High the three horsemen of the Apocalypse, trying to bring about Foreign Policy Romneygeddon.
First were the uninhibitedly liberal media, starting with the Web site Talking Points Memo, which called Romney a liar for attacking the statement because he should’ve known about the timing of its release.
How that made Romney a “liar” when no one else knew, either, and when the White House evidently thought it needed to run in the other direction, is far from clear.
Second were the implicitly liberal media, which decided en masse that Romney really ought to apologize. Why he should — when the substance of his criticism had been confirmed by similarly apologetic words from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — was also not entirely clear.
Third were tut-tutters and fretters and chin pullers of the Foreign Policy Establishment, who were certain to find fault because, well, Romney has evidently been captured by those terrible neocons they despise so much. He, a political candidate, had soiled this solemn and grave moment with, with, with . . . politics.
So Romney stepped out in front of the microphones yesterday morning — and said he still believed the apology was wrong.
Whereupon the reporters in attendance asked him, five times in a row, whether he’d “jumped the gun,” spoken too quickly, jumped the gun. And also whether he had jumped the gun.
The conclusion among Our Elite was that Romney’s statements were a campaign-ending calamity — because that was a foregone conclusion for them.
It’s fine to criticize Romney’s views; that’s how a debate of substance takes place. It’s also fine to question the timing of his statement (though that’s a question of strategy and tactics, not substance).
This was something different. This was an effort — not entirely conscious — to make it illegitimate for Romney to criticize the president’s foreign policy at a moment when foreign policy has suddenly taken center stage.
But that’s exactly when such a debate should take place — because it’s when the public will actually pay attention.
That is not what The Most High want — a debate. What they want is for Obama to be re-elected. And they’ll use the tools at their disposal to achieve their aim.
Apparently the horror of Romney’s evil words was lost on Obama. In a CBS interview yesterday, he converted the business into a one-liner: “Gov. Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”
How solemn. How grave.
So it appears one politician can say what he likes and the other can’t. Because, you know, there’s an election to win, and the self-appointed referees are also the fans.
This commentary originally appeared in the New York Post. For more, click here.