J. Christopher Stevens was killed on Sept. 11, 2012. A high-ranking ambassador to Libya, he was working in the main consulate building when it came under attack by Muslim protesters. The protesters stormed and set fire to the building. Stevens, trapped in the building and surrounded on all sides by incensed radicals, died of smoke inhalation. A Navy SEAL and two Foreign Service officers were also killed while defending the embassy.
The reason for the attack? An anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube. No, really — that’s it! Some people made a crummy racist video and posted it on a website, and now four Americans are dead. It’s easy to understand why onlookers in America and abroad are disgusted. The First Amendment is sacred to our politics and our culture. Witnessing a violent reaction to what is, above all else, protected speech is disturbing and revealing. The scary truth is that in other parts of the world, individual rights are regularly subsumed beneath the sensibilities of the majority.
Naturally, these tragic events were immediately shoehorned into the American presidential election. Attacks from the right were not, as common sense might dictate, aimed squarely at the violent protesters. Attacked instead was the embassy itself for issuing a statement condemning not only the protesters but also the producers of the inciting video. The embassy’s response was rightfully criticized for not protecting the right of free speech unconditionally. The White House quickly condemned the embassy’s statement.
Conflating the views of desperate and endangered embassy workers with President Obama’s views, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Shortly after, Mass. Gov. Romney issued a statement saying, “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.”
Mitt Romney is lying. Obama’s first statement regarding the embassy attack reads, at the top of the page, “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.” The idea that the President of the United States sympathized with murderous anti-American radicals is not only insulting, but also entirely unfounded in evidence.
Mitt Romney’s complicated relationship with the truth is nothing new. What is new – or at least what has never before been on such vivid display – is his contempt for the American citizenry he is trying to woo. It took me 10 seconds on Google to discover the White House’s actual statement about the attacks. Unlike his running mate, Romney doesn’t feel a need to rely on budget gobbledygook and charm to build his fantasy. Americans expect a level of deception from our politicians. What we do not expect, and what we must not tolerate, are deceptions so lazy they amount to a bet on the stupidity of the American public. It is a bet Romney has been all too willing to make.
As the smoke clears from the torched Libyan embassy, the domestic debate over American foreign policy will continue to be shrouded in lies. The character of those who would be our leaders will continue to be revealed. Republicans, in the face of a tragedy that should unite us, have instead chosen to divide us further. Their strategy of unconditional opposition to the president is clear. At home, this policy is annoying. Abroad, it is dangerous. It is an insult to the heroes who died in our embassy on the 11th anniversary of America’s war with radical Islam. This country's future should be entrusted to those who honor the sacrifice of J. Christopher Stevens and refrain from exploiting it.