Treating Benghazi Like Bain

Amy Davidson in The New Yorker:

Romney-davidson-libyaWhat was so bad about what Mitt Romney said about Cairo and Benghazi—and with what he keeps saying? On Thursday afternoon, a new mob was around the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, a reminder that this is not just an abstract question. There is no prohibition, at such moments, from criticizing one’s government—and there never should be—but as a major party’s nominee for President, Romney is also, by default, a participant, the leader of the opposition, and at least he had the obligation to treat this as something other than a game. It was striking to see a man who presents “apologizing for America” as the ultimate crime turning on Americans—the President, but also low-level embassy workers—at a moment of crisis. He said that a statement issued by the embassy in Cairo “apologized” to the people attacking it, and called this a “disgraceful” response; faced with the puzzle of how it could be any such thing, given that the statement in question was issued before the violence began, he said that the Embassy had been wrong to “stand by” it. Perhaps they should have apologized for it? One might call that saying sorry for saying sorry, if not for one problem: Romney wasn’t right about what the Embassy said, either. (“We have looked in vain for an ‘apology’ in the Cairo statement,” the Washington Post’s Fact Checker said.)

The incident is also a problem for Romney for some of the same reasons that the stories about Bain Capital are—and, indeed, it reprises some of the same themes. Trouble at the Embassy? Go after those you’ve decided are the employees who aren’t performing; put aside questions of loyalty, or about the difficult times they may be going through. Act as though all that’s needed for a transformation is a little managerial sleight of hand. Don’t be distracted by suffering, not even by the knowledge that some of the people doing the same jobs as the ones you’re attacking, in another branch office, are dead—that the next of kin for a couple of the victims haven’t even be informed. He wasn’t reckless and premature in his judgments, just efficient: “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values”—suggesting either that Mitt doesn’t care that he got the chronology wrong, or that he has more control over the space-time continuum than anyone suspected. (Come to think of it, time travel might explain some of his investment returns.) When a reporter asked Romney what the President himself had done wrong, given that the issue was something an embassy-worker tweeted without clearance from Washington, and from which the White House had distanced itself, Romney came up with a theory of blame:

It’s their Administration. Their Administration spoke. The President takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth, but also from the words that come from his ambassadors from his Administration, from his embassies, from his State Department.

There is something in that, of course. But what does responsibility mean here? To paper over their muddling of the facts, Romney and his proxies have fictionalized the Embassy statement and demonized its authors. They are under siege, by Americans, for saying that the Embassy “condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims—as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” (The statement also mentioned “the universal right of free speech.”) As John Cassidy noted yesterday, the actual low thing that the Administration did was distance itself from its people in Cairo at the moment when they were most isolated. Obama made up for that, somewhat, in an interview with CBS in which he said that “my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack” given the circumstances. His appearance raised another issue for Romney: Obama looked exhausted and somber, like someone who had just lost colleagues and friends. Romney looked like what he really wanted to say was “I told you so.”

More here.