Benghazi Glen Ross

Why was Obama the only leader to reference religion in response to Libya attack?

One of the unnoticed footnotes to the crisis in Libya and Egypt that threatens to rock the U.S. presidential election is the reaction of Canadian political parties to the events of Tuesday and Wednesday. From the government: John Baird says Canada “strongly condemns and deeply regrets yesterday’s senseless attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.” From the NDP: Paul Dewar says New Democrats “unequivocally condemn this brutal and senseless act of terrorism.” From the Liberals, over the signature of Bob Rae: “We condemn this violent attack against the American mission, and support the Libyan government in its efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

There is nothing in any of the three main parties’ statements to match the subordinate clause that begins this sentence from U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement today: “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”

An NDP spokesman was cross with me when I pointed out today on Twitter that there was no reference to “efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others” in the NDP statement. Nobody’s statement included such language, a transparent reference to the amateurish film that many rioters in Benghazi and Cairo are citing as a provocation. The NDP guy meant the NDP statement was identical to the Liberals’ and the Conservatives, and that’s true. But indeed I cannot find any such reference to denigrating others’ beliefs in the statements from David Cameron, François Hollande, and Germany’s foreign minister.  

So the only editorial comment on the motives of the mobs that I found in this quick survey comes from the U.S. President. And check the link: I’m not talking about last night’s disputed and disowned tweets from the Cairo embassy, I’m talking about today’s official statement by the President.

Anyway. Discuss. Meanwhile things are moving very quickly across the region where Obama gave his first major foreign-policy speech as President less than four years ago. The speech carried a title, “A New Beginning,” and that’s what the last few days have felt like, but in a more foreboding way than Obama intended. He’s got what looks like an organized ambush against U.S. personnel in Benghazi; an Egyptian president who’s more upset about the film than about the siege against the U.S. embassy in Cairo; an Afghan president with the same reflexes; fraying relations with the Israeli PM, who seems for all the world to be attempting to ensure Obama loses in November. Just about the only good news for him this week is Mitt Romney’s response to the chaos.

But while Romney was wrong on facts and graceless in manner, his instinct — that a “yes, but” is not the right response to the Benghazi slaughter, that “we didn’t like the film either, but you shouldn’t kill over it” gives the mob too much credit and the notion of free speech too little — was widely shared today. The makers of Innocence of Muslims are Americans, so perhaps they are a problem only Obama needed to address. But only he did; his contemporaries, from Germany to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, steered clear.

UPDATE: A Reader on Twitter points out that Obama does have some company, but it’s not in other countries this week, it’s in the same country not long ago: During rioting over the Danish cartoons in 2006, the Bush administration sought to defend free speech and condemn violent fanatacism while also criticizing the cartoons: “We find them offensive,” a State Dept. spokesman said, while defending Danish newspapers’ right to run them.