Foreign Policy to Move up in Importance in Presidential Race

Posted: Sep 13, 2012 12:01 AM
Foreign Policy to Move up in Importance in Presidential Race

So far, the presidential race has focused on the economy, health care and jobs. Events this week are likely to change the course of the presidential election.

Foreign policy will increase in importance and focus.

As the United States marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks this past Tuesday with ceremonies, prayers and memorial services, demonstrators gathered at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. They were protesting an online video filmed in California by Sam Bacile, a self-described Israeli Jew.

According to CNN, "In a series of disjointed scenes, filmmakers depict Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer."

Based on reports at the time of my filing Wednesday morning, four American personnel were killed in the attack in Libya, among them U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. In Cairo, several protesters climbed over the embassy walls and, according to CNN Producer Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, tore down the American flag. Protesters raised a black flag over the U.S. embassy compound bearing the words, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger."

By international law, embassies are considered territory of the country that they represent. The U.S. embassy in Egypt is U.S. territory. Invading a U.S. embassy is tantamount to invading the United States.

The U.S. embassy in Cairo released the following statement that same day. "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

No mention of the protesters in Cairo tearing down our flag or raising theirs. The Obama administration has noted that the statement was not approved internally. It will be interesting to see if there will be ramifications or changes in language.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the following statement the same day about the Libyan attack. "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack. ... Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."

This statement was stronger and more forceful, noting that the attacks were not justified.

Deciding that the statements were not enough, the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney released this statement late Tuesday night: "I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," it says. "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."

President Obama released his own statement Wednesday morning, "I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. ... They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives. I have directed my administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe.'"

It is too early to tell how these events will shape the presidential race. Much will be determined by how both camps respond to unfolding events and actions from other countries and involved groups.

What might resonate best with the American people: strength without chest thumping, calm determination rather than agitation, resoluteness versus caution and weakness.