In the New York Post today, I write about the astonishing spectacle of the mainstream media and the foreign-policy establishment waxing wroth at Mitt Romney for daring to describe the statement from the Cairo embassy expressing sympathy for the expression of offense by Egyptian radicals at the gates as having been issued by “the Obama administration.” It was, in fact, its “first response,” as the statement opened with the words “the Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
This was, the enraged managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine said on Twitter last night, a “disgusting response, and most sane people have rightly condemned it.” (italics added)
Foreign Policy‘s man—half-shrink, half Savonarola—was crystallizing the general attitude being expressed all day yesterday on Twitter, on chat shows, in blog posts, and in articles. That attitude hardened, deepened, and became conventional wisdom literally before our eyes. It was not just that Romney had erred in making a statement too hastily, before the facts were in; it was not just that Romney had behaved in a politically opportunistic fashion; it was not just that Romney had sought political advantage on 9/11 when he and Obama had supposedly promised not to do politics (a useful corrective to this fantasy can be found here by Steve Hayes); it was not just that it was illegitimate for Romney to criticize Obama in the midst of a foreign crisis; it was that the very view he was expressing was itself illegitimate.
It was, in other words, illegitimate to say that the official statement released by Obama’s mission to Egypt was not to be taken as an expression of the view of the Obama administration, especially since it was echoed in later tweets and in a statement by Hillary Clinton. The line yesterday was that since the statement had been disavowed, Romney had been dishonest by “doubling down” on his view in a press conference. But that disavowal was political, not ideological. It is the gospel of the foreign-policy establishment that the rages of Islamic radicals are to be understood and the views of anti-Islamic radicals are to be apologized for by people who are not responsible for them and a nation that did not disseminate them and therefore are neither responsible for nor the appropriate deliverers of an apology. And the Obama administration represents the distillation of the current foreign-policy establishment view.
Romney can be criticized for attacking it. Romney can be criticized for what he said, for his wording, for his ideas. He can be faulted for his timing—although such criticism is really only about style and political smarts, not substance. But the onslaught yesterday wasn’t about that. What Mark Halperin calls “the gang of 500″—the world of conventional opinion—was saying one thing and one thing only to Mitt Romney, and that was: You are not to speak.