When a U.S. embassy gets stormed by protesters overseas, it's usually a matter of public concern. And it might even occasion debate between presidential candidates.
Unless one of the candidates is President Barack Obama and the other is Mitt Romney. Then, everything changes.
In the immediate aftermath of the deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic installations in Egypt and Libya, the political debate fastened on the propriety of Romney criticizing the administration for its initial response. You know, the important stuff.
The glowing media reports from earlier this week about how President Obama would use foreign policy as a cudgel against Romney had barely faded when the press pack turned around and declared politics must stop at the water's edge, thank you very much.
The old complaint about Romney was that he didn't talk about foreign policy; the newly minted complaint about Romney was that he did talk about foreign policy.
As demonstrators gathered supposedly in response to an anti-Islamic film promoted by Pastor Terry Jones the embassy in Cairo released a statement that was craven and dumb. It rebuked "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
The first thing to say about this is that it shamefully aped the reasoning of efforts to restrict free speech in order to protect Muslim sensibilities. The second is that it failed to appease the mob. American-hating thugs usually don't check out the websites of their targets on the off chance that something posted there might dissuade them from trying to burn the place down.
The embassy reaffirmed its statement via Twitter even after protesters had stormed the compound. At one point the embassy had to tweet, pathetically, "Of course we condemn breaches of our compound, we're the ones actually living through this." These people work for the world's lone superpower?
Late that night, Romney condemned the thoroughly condemnable embassy press release. In a rapid confirmation of Romney's wisdom in doing so, the White House threw the embassy's statement under the bus. But reporters and liberal pundits reacted in collective horror at Romney's temerity.
No one should get the vapors over Romney's critique. Matters of war and peace are inherently political. Does anyone remember the Vietnam War? I'm sure Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon would have loved a rule that put debating it off-limits. Instead, anti-war protesters and politicians are still lionized.
In 1980, the foreign-policy debate didn't stop because Americans were held hostage in Tehran. Nor did it stop in 2004 because Americans were fighting in Iraq. One of John Kerry's ads included the graphic: "2 Americans beheaded just this week."
The embassy attacks shine a light on our deteriorating position in the broader Middle East. The signature Obama foreign-policy success has been killing people Osama bin Laden with a Special Forces raid and a bunch of other al-Qaida terrorists with drones. If that could be the sum total of U.S. foreign policy, we'd be in fine shape. We're not.
Relations with Israel are poisonous. We lost an ally in Egypt, and the revolution there may yet prove Iran 1979 redux. Iraq is sliding into the orbit of Tehran and perhaps back into chaos. Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon.
We have made progress in the Afghanistan War but may throw it away with an arbitrary withdrawal, and the Pakistanis hate us more than ever.
This is not the record of a modern-day Metternich. Some of this is the president's fault, some of it is the drift of events. But none of it serves to vindicate Obama's initial theory that as long as we sound soothing enough, pressure Israel to make concessions and end our wars, the Middle East will enfold us in its warm embrace.
If this isn't the time to talk about this record, when is the right time? For the press, politics doesn't stop at the water's edge. It stops wherever is most convenient for Obama's re-election campaign.