Mitt Romney displayed startling opportunism Tuesday, grasping for political points out of tragedy.
“It’s disgraceful,” Romney said at 10 p.m. Tuesday, “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.”
Romney released the statement hours after the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues. His message was inappropriate on almost every level.
For starters, it was factually inaccurate. Obama never expressed sympathy for the mobs who, earlier in the day, attacked first the embassy in Egypt and then the embassy in Libya.
The “sympathy” that offended Romney was a tweet issued by the embassy in Egypt, intended to calm angry crowds. The embassy’s one-sentence Internet post criticized “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” It was a reference to a fringe, anti-Muslim film that had incited Egyptians who posed an increasing threat to embassy security.
The tweet was posted before Egyptians scaled the embassy walls and removed the U.S. flag. It was posted hours before another mob attacked the embassy in Libya, killing U.S. officials.
So Romney had his facts wrong. The tweet came not from Obama but from an at-risk embassy official, and it came before — not after — an attack on a different embassy.
Maybe more disturbing, though, is that Romney used the violent death of U.S. officials to score political points.
Romney’s oft-repeated claim that Obama sympathizes with anti-American Muslims is bizarre.
On Monday, according to Yemeni reports, a U.S. drone attack killed an Al Qaeda leader and six people traveling with him. Similar attacks have killed hundreds of alleged radical Muslims, and they have been made at the direct order of the president. If Obama is sympathetic to radical Muslims, he has a strange way of showing it.
Bizarre or not, Obama as sympathizer is a theme that has currency with Romney’s political base. That Romney was willing to exploit his base’s rage on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and while other U.S. embassy officials remained at risk says much about the extent of his ambition.
Romney blundered into an international crisis. He used false facts to politicize the tragic death of Americans.
It was not Romney’s finest hour.