You can criticize Mitt Romney for joggling the elbows of the people currently entrusted with conducting the country’s foreign affairs by running his mouth in the midst of an active crisis.
You can criticize Mitt Romney for ghoulishly trying to take advantage of the deaths of four diplomats.
You can criticize Mitt Romney for joining the side of the Muslim-hating Americans and the America-hating Muslims who are trying to foment a worldwide religous war, and against those who are trying to tamp down sectarian hostility, including our moderate friends in the Arab world.
All of those would be fair criticisms. But each of them has an answer: there’s a campaign on and the President’s performance is a legitimate issue; the right of free speech is being questioned and it’s important to defend it; even (if you’re Pam Geller) it’s vital to take the Christian side against the Muslim side in the war of civilizations.
But the aspect of Romney’s statements that no one could legitimately defend is their mendacity. Like most of his campaign utterances, what Romney said about what went on in Cairo and Benghazi wasn’t true.
Let’s review the bidding.
Several hours before the Cairo attack, the Embassy put out the following statement, apparently in hopes of preventing that attack:
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.
Got that? “Free speech” is a “universal right” but we condemn those who “abuse” it. That night, the Romney camp issued a statement in Romney’s name (and, apparently, cleared by him personally):
The Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
That was false. What Romney described as the Obama administration response was in fact the Embassy’s statement before the attack. That aside, the statment did not “express sympathy” with anyone. Nor did the actual statements issued by Secretary Clinton and President Obama after the attacks.
The next day, Romney held a press conference at which he insisted that the White House was responsible for anything the Embassy staff said, and that the Embassy’s reaffirmation of the statement after the attack made his comment about its being a response to the attack true (retroactively, I guess).
Romney also said “I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” and repeated, “An apology for America’s values is never the right course” and accused the Embassy of having suggested “that there’s something wrong with the right of free speech.”
That was another lie. No one had apologized to anyone for anything, or said anything about free speech other than that it was a universal right that is sometimes abused.
Of course none of this matters to Romney’s diminishing cadre of defenders; if they cared about the differnce between truth and falsehood, they wouldn’t have been on his team in the first place.
But it ought to matter to the rest of us. He’s lied his way into within an ace of the Presidency. It would be poetic justice if lying kept him from making that one small last step.