Four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi Tuesday. The attackers were armed with guns and rockets and were reportedly angry about a YouTube film that made derogatory statements about Islam and its central figure, Mohammed. In a statement released to the press this morning, President Barack Obama “strongly” condemned the “outrageous attack,” saying that the slain US personnel “exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.”
There were also protests at the US Embassy in Cairo, where Republicans seized on a weak initial statement from officials there to paint the Obama administration as soft-on-Islam (the US Ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson, is career diplomat who also served as Bush’s Ambassador to Pakistan). The initial statement (which appeared before the attacks on the embassies) and a few since-deleted tweets apologized for the offending video and criticized the “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Though the White House told Politico it hadn’t approved the statement, GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of sympathizing with the embassy attackers, saying:
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.
Likewise, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted yesterday that “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” So the official Republican response to Americans being killed abroad yesterday is that the president of the United States is on the side of the killers, so vote Romney.
Despite the persistent Republican fantasy that the United States conducts diplomacy the way that Sean Hannity used to treat Alan Colmes, it’s not clear a Republican President would have reacted differently to initial reports. In 2006, when European newspapers published cartoons denigrating Islam’s prophet Mohammed, the Bush administration similarly affirmed free speech rights but said that “We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.”