In the eyes of Mitt Romney, Reince Priebus and other conservatives, President Obama committed the grievous sin of “apologizing” to violent Islamists when the the U.S. embassy in Cairo released a statement condemning anti-Muslim bigotry. (The statement was not an apology, did not come from Obama and came before the mob turned violent.) No matter how offensive the film was, it is protected by freedom of speech and any condemnation of it is nothing less than an “apology for American values,” Romney said.
Republicans, however, were willing to let similar statements slide when the guy in the White House had an “R” next to his name.
In 2008, a U.S. sniper shot a Quran in Iraq, causing an uproar. President Bush expressly apologized. “He apologized for that in the sense that he said that we take it very seriously,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “We are concerned about the reaction. We wanted them to know that the president knew that this was wrong.” The sniper was disciplined and the upper echelons of the military put out numerous statements trying to soothe tensions. Nobody accused Bush of “apologizing to al-Qaida.”
Bush also personally and publicly rebuked anti-Islamic speech delivered by a top general, which sparked outrage among Muslims. “Look, it just doesn’t reflect what the government thinks,” Bush told Muslims in Indonesia. Incidentally, that general, Jerry Boykin, is now an adviser to the Romney campaign and a top executive at the Family Research Council.
Televangelist Pat Robertson came under even more withering fire from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell told business executives in 2002, the week after Robertson and other Christian conservatives made disparaging comments about Muslims, that anti-Islam rhetoric “must be rejected.” “We will reject the kinds of comments you have seen recently where people in this country say that Muslims are responsible for the killing of all Jews and who put out hatred. This kind of hatred must be rejected … This kind of language must be spoken out against. We cannot allow this image to go forth of America,” he said, delivering a far stronger rebuke than the Cairo embassy’s statement.
Bush himself told reporters at the U.N., “Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans.” If Romney had any objection to the comments then, there is no public record of them.
Perhaps the most analogous event to the current turmoil over an anti-Islamic film was the uproar sparked in 2006 when a Danish newspaper printed a cartoon disparaging the Prophet Mohammed. The Bush State Department was unequivocal in its condemnation of the comics and expressed something very close to sympathy for Muslims offended by the comics. “We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said at the time. Again, there was no Republican backlash.
There are only two explanations for this inconsistency. Either Romney, Preibus, et al. are cynical attacking Obama for purely political reasons, or the conservative movement has become more uncomfortable with Islam since Bush left office. Both are probably true.