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History lesson: What Ronald Reagan said

at 01:09 PM ET, 09/12/2012


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Some six hours before protesters gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, at 12:17 p.m. local time Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Thanks to the miracle of Twitter, and retweets, an impression emerged that the statement was issued in response to the protests, rather than the release of a YouTube clip that defamed the prophet Muhammad.

 That in turned sparked a blast from GOP nominee Mitt Romney, 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.”

 We will leave aside the politics of the statement — or Romney’s decision to stand by it.

But because Republicans have frequently likened President Obama to Jimmy Carter, we were curious to learn how candidate Ronald Reagan responded to the worst foreign policy disaster on Carter’s watch — the failed mission to rescue U.S. diplomats in Iran, resulting in the deaths of eight servicemen.

 In April 1980, Reagan was still battling George H.W. Bush for the GOP nomination, while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was challenging Carter for the Democratic nomination. This is excerpted from The Washington Post reporting on the political fallout:

Carter's presidential rivals were charitable. Republican George Bush supported the president's actions without reservation. Ronald Reagan and Edward Kennedy offered sympathy to the families of the dead troopers and called for national "unity."
 Bush was most outspoken, saying, "I unequivocally support the president — no ifs, ands or buts. . . . He made a difficult, courageous decision."
 In strikingly similar formal statements, which they declined to amplify, Reagan and Kennedy expressed sympathy for the family of the eight men killed in the rescue effort, and pledged to preserve "national unity" in the cause of the hostages' release.
 Before breaking off his Michigan campaigning to return to Washington, Kennedy said, "I share the feeling of all Americans at this sad moment for our country. . . . Whatever our other differences, we are one nation in our commitment to the hostages, our concern for their families, and our sorrow for the brave men who gave their lives trying to rescue their fellow citizens."
 A few hours later, Reagan told a Los Angeles press conference, "This is a difficult day for all of us Americans. . . . It is time for us . . . to stand united. It is a day for quiet reflection . . . when words should be few and confined essentially to our prayers."

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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