Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Death and Diplomacy in the Grip of Politics

This morning I was up and about in my house in the early hours as I often am, passing my interest between the morning newspaper that flopped onto my driveway about 4am, one of the half dozen books that are laying around vying for my attention, and the cable news stations that suddenly turned from fluff to substance.

The American ambassador to Libya and three members of the diplomatic staff had been killed in a brutal attack that appeared to be targeted and likely timed to coincide with memorialization of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Within hours the name and sterling reputation of the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, was being transmitted around the world. Suddenly everything changed in a flash, something we see all too often these days. If you like stability you're living in the wrong century.

I am writing this just a few hours after the attack. I know nothing for sure. Some say it was stimulated by a video posted on the internet and deemed derogatory of the Prophet Muhammed, and thereby offensive to Muslims around the world. If so, it is a conflict between religion and free speech, a volatile crucible in the incendiary climate of the Middle East, not to mention the United States.

I don't pretend to have credentials to comment with any veracity on the religious and cultural issues of this sad and fearful day. In our country we look to those who have experience and knowledge to understand it, explain it, and then deal with it.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her role as the country's top diplomat, stepped forth within a few hours and gave an elegant and nuanced statement, mourning the dead, speaking thoughtfully to the sensitive issues, and standing firm against those who perpetrate such horrible deeds in the name of faith or country or mindless ideals.

But then cometh Mitt Romney. First, he fired an initial salvo in the middle of the night, launched before the deaths had been reported, laying the violent demonstrations in Syria, Egypt and Libya at the feet of President Obama's "failed foreign policy." He then held a news conference basically restating his initial bellicose inaccuracies. He ridiculed any effort on the part of the administration to understand or explain the complex issues of faith and freedom.

I thought we had an understanding in this country that political disagreements were set aside when issues of national security were on the line. Mr. Romney seeks to become leader of the free world. After bungling his Olympics tour by insulting our allies he now puts on galoshes and stumbles his way through the tulips, showing no sense of timing or reflection. It is shameful.

Mr. Romney asks Americans to respect his Mormon faith, something many people find odd, embarrassing, and antiquarian. I completely support his request as fair and consistent with American values. Now it is time for this man to show that he can honor in others what he asks for himself.