HUGE kudos to The Atlantic for compiling all the news of the embassy attacks in Libya and Egypt into this convenient timeline. Writer Garance Franke-Ruta, that must have been a major headache, and for that we owe you a beer. A 13-minute clip of the movie that supposedly sparked the controversy, The Real Life of Muhammad, is also on the page, and is possibly the most amateurish non-porno film ever made. But we’re focusing on what President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) had to say about the situation.
The first response came from the U.S. embassy in Egypt, which focused on condemning the filmmakers, while still condemning the violent protests at the embassy. (This was before the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.) These are the statements upon which Romney seized, accusing Obama directly of “standing in apology for American values,” while still condemning the protests. See a pattern?
Obama later disavowed the statement from the embassy, although he never actually disagreed with it; it just played up an item on his own to-condemn list that he didn’t prefer. His problem: message discipline. I doubt he’ll take any measures that would reduce the ability of specific government entities to release their own communications. But the ability of political opponents to run with that lack of discipline is a PR risk. We might hear of more pre-clearance in the near future.
Romney’s problem: missing the point entirely. Nobody, at least not within the U.S. government, is attacking the filmmaker’s right to speak freely. They’re saying, albeit obliquely, that these people are using their First Amendment rights irresponsibly. Is there a potential for something you say to incite violence, based on precedent? Then maybe you should rethink saying it.
Among Rev. Terry Jones – a proponent of this film who enjoys burning Korans – and his ilk, this film is free speech. Among the embassy attackers, a bullet is free speech. If anyone is exploiting these attacks, it’s Jones and Co.: inflaming Muslims to the point that they kill the nearest U.S. citizens, then saying “See? They hate peace!” Why not just sucker-punch a very large, angry man, then tell everyone how mean he is?
But these are Obama and Romney’s problems. America’s problem is that Arab Spring nations may have gotten rid of their despots, but they haven’t necessarily become more peaceful, pluralistic, democratic or pro-American. Any new president who engages in nation-building should factor that reality into their response early.