Three Quick Points on the Libya Killings

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1) On the merits, this is outrageous and a tragedy. One of the first principles of diplomacy is that nations have a duty to protect the representatives of foreign states sent there to do international business. Today, American security forces have a duty to protect Libya's diplomats at their embassy in Washington DC and in consulates elsewhere. Yesterday, Libyan security forces had a duty, which they did not fulfill, to protect Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other U.S. representatives in Benghazi.


2) On the short-term politics, one reason why people who have seen previous campaigns always insert, "Anything could happen, but..." when giving forecasts about presidential races is that, indeed, anything could happen. Political races and policy arguments grind their way along, economic trends push slowly in one direction or another, and then from time to time wholly unforeseen events occur. The political ramifications of this event in the United States are nowhere near its most important consequence. But this counts as one of the wholly unforeseen events affecting the political cycle.

3) On the longer-term temperamental politics, this is a very vivid example of what people mean when they talk about "the 3 a.m. phone call." In these next few hours let us look very carefully at the first-reaction quick responses, and then the considered second-take positions, by the two candidates.* One or the other of them will be in charge of U.S. response to similar inevitable-surprise episodes in the next four years.

Our nation's respects and gratitude go to the families and friends of Ambassador Stevens, and the guards and others killed along with him, and their counterparts representing our country around the world.

*Update I have just seen Jeffrey Goldberg's report on an immediate response from the Romney camp. That is revealing and not encouraging. On the other hand, I am watching Fox & Friends right now to see how they are presenting things. They've just finished with a foreign-policy expert who urged Romney to stand down for a day or so. She says, "I am a hawk, but this is not the time to politicize the issue."

Update-update. Here is the New York Times report on the Romney response Jeff Goldberg is referring to. Read this carefully. It is a "midnight phone call" rather than 3 am, but this tells me something:

Bracing for trouble before the start of the protests here and in Libya, the American Embassy released a statement shortly after noon that appeared to refer to Mr. Jones [the idiotic Koran-burning "pastor" Terry Jones]: "The United States Embassy 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." It later denounced the "unjustified breach of our embassy."

Apparently unaware of the timing of the first embassy statement, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, put out a statement just before midnight Tuesday saying, "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." Mr. Romney also said he was "outraged" at the attacks on the embassy and consulate.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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