Wise executives know sometimes they need to postpone a decision. “I just think we need more information before we weigh in,” they'll say.
That’s a litmus test the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney should institute. The lack of such a standard led the campaign to make an error of fact, an error of judgment and an error of discretion Tuesday night. Yet perhaps such a litmus test wouldn’t even help the campaign: Wednesday, when Romney did have the facts he needed to realize his error, he was still doubling down on his mistakes.
Tuesday night the United States Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed in Benghazi, along with three of his staff members, in a revolting attack by an enraged mob. The crowd was incited by Egyptian media reports (there were also violent protests at the American Embassy in Cairo) of a 14-minute piece of video, called “Innocence of Muslims,” circulating on the Web, that reportedly features crude scenes depicting the Prophet Mohammed as an idiot, womanizer, gay man, a pedophile and a violent thug.
After early reports of violence and at least one death had begun to surface Tuesday night, Romney broke a pledge to cease political attacks for the duration of the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and said, in a statement released at about 10:30 p.m.: “It’s 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.”
He was referring to a statement released not by the administration but by the American Embassy in Cairo, which said: “The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing effort by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims-as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”
Romney’s error of fact? His statement shows he thought the embassy’s message was released after the killings, when it was actually released hours before. It was not intended to apologize for the United States after Americans were killed. It was intended to prevent mob violence, and save lives.
Romney’s error(s) of judgment? Speaking before he had all the facts, and then staunchly defending his mistake at an event Wednesday morning when he almost certainly had enough information to realize his error.
Romney’s error of discretion? He broke with the president of the United States at a time of great tragedy and international uproar, presenting us as a divided nation at a time when we must be seen as unified in our singleness of purpose and response. Our internal political wars are supposed to end at the water’s edge. That won’t always be the case, but it certainly must be when a period of national mourning and national security fears is in its first bloom.
That he jumped the gun with his statement was disappointing. That he continued to support that statement even after the facts had eroded his position is downright troubling. But that he is willing to say absolutely anything in the service of his presidential aspirations? That, we were already beginning to suspect.
Pictured above: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney makes comments on the killing of U.S. embassy officials in Benghazi, Libya, while speaking in Jacksonville, Fla. (Sept. 12, 2012)