The interminable power of words, particularly when they are about foreign affairs in the Middle East, once again became evident last week.
Middle Eastern countries were already on edge about an anti-Muslim video, when pundits and politicos decided to aggravate growing tensions with statements
even as embassies in Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia have been attacked by mobs.
The culmination of the week’s international crisis was the unfortunate death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
The roundup below should serve as a lesson that reacting to foreign affairs issues is not the same as, say, domestic economic issues. It’s also a reminder that despite our political differences there should be a commitment by political parties to stand together when a good portion of the world is upset with us.
Lack of Facts:
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was taken to task for earlier this week criticizing a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo attempting to calm outrage over the film
. He told ABC news that the statement was "not directly applicable and appropriate for the setting." Turns out that it probably was appropriate, since hours later crowds spilled into the Cairo embassy and news broke of the Libyan embassy deaths.
Friend or Foe:
President Obama, apparently speaking off the cuff, was criticized for saying in an interview that he doesn’t consider Egypt “an ally
, but we don’t consider them an enemy.” In the political world, the term “ally” is very specific, and Egypt was designated a U.S. ally by Congress in 1989.
In the cases of Romney and his premature statements and Obama and the “ally” mistake, neither of them are apologizing. In fact ,they are going to lengths to justify what they said. Romney’s backtracking and clarifying and Obama’s semantic defense only seem to make matter worse.
White House Rebuttals:
Amid undocumented criticism that the administration wasn’t prepared for the embassy attacks despite advance warnings, the White House lashed back today. Press secretary Jay Carney said there was “no actionable intelligence” ahead of the attack in Libya. The report was based on an anonymous source and printed in a U.K. newspaper.
Carney further added that the violent protests throughout the Middle East are not directed at the United States or U.S. policy but are a response to a YouTube video. The statement is designed to quell the violence that keeps spilling over, but to just about anyone watching the news unfold it falls flat since it is evident a good part of the world blames the U.S. for the video, not just those who made it.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.