The Deadly Rocket Attack in Libya and Romney's Crass Exploitation of National Tragedy
A rocket attack reportedly carried out by Islamist extremists killed the American ambassador to Libya yesterday, along with three other Americans also at the US embassy in Benghazi.
The attack came after angry protests broke out in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya over an Islamophobic film produced in the U.S.
The killing of the ambassador and the protests in Egypt have injected foreign policy into the U.S. presidential race.
The US embassy in Cairo was surrounded by angry protests yesterday over the anti-Muslim film. The American flag was taken down from the embassy and a black flag reading “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet” was put in its place."
The Libyan government has condemned the rocket attack. President Barack Obama has also condemned “the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likewise condemned the attacks, and said: "We condemn this vicious and violent attack that took their lives, which they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future."
The protest in Egypt was in response to an obscure film allegedly produced by an Israeli real estate developer, Sam Bacile, who lives in Los Angeles. The film was made in 2011, and mocks the Prophet Muhammad. The Wall Street Journal reports that Bacile made the film with the help of “100 Jewish donors” who gave him $5 million.
Bacile, reportedly in hiding, told the Associated Press that “Islam is a cancer” and that he believes the film will “help his native land.” A consultant for the film, Steve Klein, told the AP that "we went into this knowing this was probably going to happen."
But doubts have been raised about the media's accounts of Bacile. Religion Dispatches' Sarah Posner has a smart post up asking important questions about the alleged filmmaker behind the anti-Muslim flick. Posner writes: "Before the July 2012 upload of the film trailer to YouTube, under the user name Sam Bacile, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of the existence a California real estate developer online."
Veteran national security reporter Laura Rozen also reports on doubts that Bacile is who the media say he is.
Meanwhile, the rocket attack in Libya is being described by a British think tank as revenge for the death of an Al Qaeda leader. This is in sharp contrast to reports that the attack and protests in Libya were sparked by Bacile's film. More from the Washington Post:
British think tank Quilliam Foundation says the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was “a well planned terrorist attack” and would have taken place regardless of the protest against a movie that insults Islam.
The foundation says the attack was revenge for the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s second in command who was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier in June.
Mitt Romney's presidential campaign attempted to capitalize on the events today, as Romney held a press conference denouncing the Obama administration's response to the attack. "This attack on American individuals and embassies is outrageous, it’s disgusting," said the GOP candidate. Romney then crassly exploited the attack, saying: "I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values."
Romney's reference to "sympathy" is a distortion, but the comments reflect a conscious effort by the Romney campaign to hit Obama on foreign policy.
Romney's claim that the Obama administration "sympathesizes" with the attackers is a reference to a US Embassy statement from Cairo expressing dismay at the anti-Muslim film. But the White House says that the statement "was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government."
The comments from the Romney camp make sense, though, when placing them in the context of how Romney has run his presidential campaign. The claim made at the press conference that the administration "apologized" for US values is the latest attempt to hit at Obama for allegedly disavowing "American exceptionalism"--which he hasn't done.
Romney's statements also reflect his neoconservative foreign policy advisors, many of them connected to the Iraq War, and who advocate for US military might around the world to shape the world as the US sees fit. It was also a nod to theanti-Muslim voters that make up the GOP base. Romney implied that Obama was "sympathesizing" with the Muslim attackers in Egypt--a not-so-subtle way of dog-whistling to those who believe Obama is Muslim himself.