North Africa and the Mideast are notoriously volatile regions, prone to periodic spasms of violence. One of those spasms claimed the life of one of our most skilled ambassadors to the region, J. Christopher Stevens. At 52, he was an Arabic-speaking veteran of two tours to Libya, including the tumultuous period in which the dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown with U.S. backing, some of it no doubt coordinated by Stevens.
Stevens and three other U.S. embassy workers were killed by a mob while trying to assure the safety of the U.S. consular staff in Benghazi. The mob had been enraged by a film made by a California resident, Sam Bacile, whom the Associated Press says identifies himself as an Israeli. The film depicts Muhammad as a philanderer who tolerated child sexual abuse, with an "an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults disguised as revelations about Muhammad, whose obedient followers are presented as a cadre of goons," the AP says.
A trailer on the Internet set off riots in Libya and Egypt, where a mob attacked our embassy. Assuredly, the fallout from that ugly and intentional religious insult -- Bacile believes Islam is a "cancer" -- is not over.
American tradition and the Constitution obligate us to defend free speech, and Bacile is entitled to that protection, but they also allow the rest of us to hold him in the deepest contempt and to hold him deeply responsible for the deaths of our diplomats.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who seems to have a recurring tin ear for foreign affairs, called it "disgraceful" that the Obama administration's "first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." Whether it was "disgraceful" is a matter of opinion, but the rest of the statement is simply not true; moreover, Romney said it on 9/11, when there was supposed to be a moratorium on political attacks. He doubled down on his criticism the next morning, violating two longstanding traditions: speaking before the president had responded to the killings and criticizing a sitting president in the midst of a foreign-policy crisis.
Tellingly, Romney got no support from Capitol Hill. According to The Washington Post, no Republican leader criticized President Barack Obama on Wednesday, instead calling for stronger security at U.S. diplomatic facilities, the swift capture of the perpetrators and a renewed commitment to pro-democracy efforts in the Arab world.
Libya assured the United Nations of its commitment to bring the killers to justice. And in a Rose Garden statement, Obama made that same statement, twice promising that "justice will be done." We trust that he'll see it is.