Romney Stumbles Over Libya Killings, but Obama Is Vulnerable in the Long Run

The repugnant film “Innocence of Islam” is unworthy of Romney’s defense; let’s hope it has nothing to do with Jews.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

First, I would like to thank and commend Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and all the others bloggers and journalists who have been steadily disassembling initial news reports that the man behind the film “the Innocence of Islam”, aka Sam Bacile, is an Israeli Jew. I wish them every success in completing their mission. Jews have enough problems to contend without being linked to this repugnant and obnoxious so-called movie.

Secondly, if I may be so bold, though it is undeniable that it is not the film that is responsible for the killing of ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans, but rather the hate-filled fanatics who stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, there is still no reason to defend it in the context of “free speech” and “standing up for our principles,” as Mitt Romney did at his press conference on Tuesday. The film is a filthy and primitive work of incitement of the kind that was once used to justify discrimination against, and extermination of, European Jews. It may be protected under the U.S. Constitution, but that’s certainly nothing to be proud of.

That wasn’t Romney’s biggest gaffe on Tuesday, of course, compared to his rash decision to condemn President Obama on the basis of an unauthorized tweet from the American Embassy in Cairo that was meant to forestall the riots that came later, and to stick to his guns when his mistake was revealed. “Haste is from the devil,” as the Arabic saying goes and as Romney had to personally learn yesterday.

It is a sign of the crisis of confidence between Romney and many Republican Party stalwarts in the wake of his negative poll showings in recent days that so many supporters of the party either failed to come to his defense or criticized their candidate openly. That’s been happening a lot lately.

Nonetheless, the reports that this may have been a “fatal mistake” on Romney’s part or an irreversible turning point in the campaign are certainly premature. If the disturbances in the Middle East die down, the agenda will quickly return to the economy, where President Obama is vulnerable. And if the crisis continues or deteriorates, it will pose increasing risks for the president, despite his advantage in the polls over Romney in handling foreign and national security affairs. The closest historical precedent, lest one forget, is the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran that helped end the presidency of a previous Democratic single termer, Jimmy Carter. Republicans, of course, are just waiting for the right time to pounce on any comparison between Obama and his hapless predecessor.

In both Libya and Egypt, Obama is not only vulnerable politically but must also walk a delicate line diplomatically. The Administration takes credit for helping to overthrow Libyan dictator Mu’ammar Gadhafi and for the relatively moderate regime that replaced him, but cannot appear to be reconciling itself to deadly violence against Americans. In Egypt, the Administration has been trying to foster relations with President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that has been actively inciting Egyptians to riot against the U.S. The longer these crises continue, the more Obama will be prone to accusations of vacillation, weakness and pandering to Muslims, for reasons, the Republicans will be quick to insinuate, that are buried deep in his biography.

Finally, it is probably no coincidence that the attacks on the U.S. legations took place on the anniversary of 9/11, a circumstantial piece of evidence to buttress the growing case against al-Qaeda involvement in the riots. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not consult his calendar before launching his own broadside against Obama and his Administration over the Iranian issue on the very same and very solemn day.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the crowd at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada, September 11, 2012.Credit: AFP

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