Mitt Romney's criticism of President Obama after four American diplomats were killed in Libya this week was ill-timed, inappropriate, insensitive political opportunism of the worst sort. His disinclination or inability to back away from those remarks is worse.
On Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of 9/11, protesters stormed the American Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, supposedly in outrage over an obscure and amateurish film that denigrates the Prophet Mohammed. Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in Libya, perhaps by armed militants who used the protest as cover for a planned attack on the consulate.
This was a moment for national unity, not politics. The proper response was to condemn the attacks, mourn the deaths, and declare the incident off limits as a campaign issue. But neither the Republican presidential nominee nor his advisers could resist taking a cheap shot at the Obama Administration.
Before the attacks, the Cairo embassy released a statement that rejected "actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others." Mr. Romney jumped on this statement to accuse the President of sympathizing with the attackers.
This politically motivated assault was backed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), who called condemnations of the scurrilous film "disheartening," and Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), who compared the embassy response to telling a rape victim "you asked for it because of the way you dressed." More-reasonable Republicans distanced themselves from such remarks.
As the sequence of events and motivations of the attackers became clearer, Mr. Romney could have backed off, without apologizing. Instead, he offered a rambling explanation that "the embassy is the administration" and its statement was "akin to apology." That is flat wrong.
The protests, which have spread to several other Muslim countries, are complex. Muslims often don't understand why the United States tolerates offensive speech. In most Muslim nations, the filmmaker would have been arrested; in some he might have been killed.
Protesters often respond emotionally and act on incomplete or inaccurate information. Protests routinely are hijacked for other purposes by disgruntled groups or segments of the local population.
For all these reasons, and so they won't have to apologize later for indiscreet comments, America's leaders and diplomats respond cautiously to events while they gather and analyze information. That's the nature of diplomacy.
Mr. Romney neither waited until he knew the facts nor apologized for getting them wrong. The first response revealed his lack of understanding of Middle East politics and U.S. foreign policy. The second is an example of the would-be president's inability to acknowledge mistakes or changes in position.
Thus, the candidate was pro-choice, until he was pro-life; was a moderate, except when he was a "real conservative"; would repeal Obamacare in its entirety, except those parts people like, and has always advocated running-mate Paul Ryan's budget, which was the Romney budget all along. Such behavior should concern voters.