As Middle East attacks on US intensify, Politico focuses on critiquing GOP

David Martosko Executive Editor

On a Friday when the rest of the news media trained its sights on the rapidly deteriorating Middle East, the news website Politico focused on critiquing Republicans who don’t control America’s foreign policy apparatus.

The foreign policy stewardship of the Obama administration has come under harsh questioning this week in the wake of an armed assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four dead, including the American ambassador to that North African country. In an earlier incident, Islamist rioters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, raising an al-Qaida banner in place of the U.S. flag.

On Friday the world was witness to a third straight day’s fiery spectacle as militant Muslims attacked American institutions overseas.

In the Tunisian capital of Tunis, two are dead and at least 40 wounded after protesters clashed with police near the U.S. Embassy there. Taliban fighters assaulted a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, killing two Americans. Two American fast food restaurants burned in the Northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. And new violence erupted both in Cairo and in the Persian Gulf state of Yemen. (RELATED: Hardee’s, KFC in Lebanon torched during Islamists’ protests)

Politico, the self-styled paper of record for inside-the-Beltway politics, led Friday evening with a story headlined “The GOP’s foreign policy muddle” — an exploration of how events in the Middle East could doom the GOP’s chances of reclaiming the political mantle of foreign policy strength.

Politico executive editor John Harris did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters, an international news wire not known for its sympathies with U.S. Republicans, led with “Anti-American fury sweeps Middle East over film,” a reference to a short anti-Muslim YouTube movie trailer often cited as the flashpoint for this week’s violence in the region. It included an account of an angry Egyptian Muslim shouting that Islamists in his country “were attacked by Obama, and his government, and the Coptic Christians living abroad!” (RELATED: White House blames video, not Islamic politics, for embassy crisis)

Similarly, CNN led with a story about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s demands for greater protection of its embassies by their host countries. The Fox News Channel featured a live stream of Cairo protesters clashing with police, along with a story about Marines headed to the Sudan to protect the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.

“Anti-American Protests Flare Beyond Mideast,” The New York Times’ home page blared. “In eastern Afghanistan,” the Times revealed, “protesters burned an effigy of President Obama, who had made an outreach to Muslims a thematic pillar of his first year in office.”

The Daily Caller featured a story about the Obama administration asking YouTube to suppress the public viewing of the widely derided but constitutionally protected video. (RELATED: Obama submits to Brotherhood, asks for suppression of anti-Islam video)

The Washington Post trumpeted efforts in Egypt and Yemen to “contain anti-U.S. protests.” Its story reported on a letter from President Obama to Congress, saying “that the security forces from the U.S. Africa Command ‘are equipped for combat.'” Should hostilities break out and more Americans make their return home in caskets instead of airplane seats, that combat could doom Obama’s chance for re-election in November.

National Public Radio covered in its leading online position the tear-jerking repatriation of the remains of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department information management officer Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs.

Even the website of the reliably liberal NBC News put in its top slot a story reporting that the Obama administration is “proposing that American taxpayers spend about $1.55 billion on aid to Egypt and another $1.5 million … on aid to Libya in the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1.” Foreign aid to countries not seen as friendly to the United States is an increasingly unpopular pillar of Obama’s foreign policy, calculated to curry favor with governments that might otherwise oppose American interests.

The MSNBC story brought the liberal-versus-conservative tussle over these aid dollars into sharp relief, pitting Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul against Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Paul has sponsored a bill to discontinue or severely restrict precious U.S. dollars going to Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Pakistan “until they act like our allies.”

Kerry argued that “unscrupulous people [who] we all know have hated us for a long time” would “love to get the upper hand” if U.S. aid were to dry up.

But Politico’s leading news package was short on overseas mayhem and even shorter on scenarios that could be politically harmful to the president. (RELATED: Aides patch Obama’s Egypt ‘ally’ gaffe)

One article told of a county-level judge in Madison, Wisc., who overturned on Friday an organized labor law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. That law, already in effect for a year, restricted the ability of public-sector unions to impact taxpayer coffers through collective bargaining.

Another Politico story described a Fox News broadcast segment in which Republican Sen. John McCain tussled with Fox host Sean Hannity over the question of whether Libya’s election of an Islamist theocracy was a turning point that tilted the nation toward this week’s violence. McCain disagreed with that sentiment, saying the network was “wrong on Libya.”

The only Politico story about the Obama administration appearing in its home page’s top grouping Friday evening concerned the Obama administration’s complaints about promised defense cuts in a so-called budget “sequester” which may or may not come to pass. Congress can still sidestep military and Medicare cuts by breaking the budget impasse that has paralyzed Capitol Hill since 2011.

In the middle of a sudden security buildup in the Middle East to protect U.S. diplomatic stations, such concerns may appear calculated to project strength from the White House.

Sixteen of the 20 most heavily viewed U.S. news websites Friday night prominently featured photography of the violent unrest, many including scenes of arson or gunfire.

Politico led with a Reuters photograph of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney in a posture that suggested he was explaining himself to a skeptical audience.

“These days, the hazy Republican foreign policy message emanates from many corners of the party,” Politico reported, “but it starts at the top with the Republican presidential nominee.”

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