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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Romney Criticizes Obama on Handling of Embassy Attacks


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mitt Romney on Wednesday took aim at the Obama administration's handling of unfolding developments in the Mideast, including the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, accusing the administration of a “severe miscalculation” and calling its handling of the matter “akin to an apology.” He also defended his own actions after coming under fire from Democrats for politicizing the issue.

The crisis emerged as a test of Mr. Romney's handling of a fast-breaking international crisis. Mr. Romney had pledged not to criticize President Obama on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, but by Tuesday evening, his campaign had reversed course, releasing early a statement that had been embargoed until midnight that criticized the president's handling of violence at the American Embassies in Egypt and Libya.

“I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Mr. Romney said in a statement that went out just before 10:30 p.m. “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's comments were referring to a statement released by the American Embassy in Cairo that condemned an American-made Web film denouncing Islam - the catalyst for the protests and violence in Cairo. However, the embassy's statement was released in an effort to head off the violence, not after the attacks, as Mr. Romney's statement implied. (Though the embassy staff in Cairo later said on Twit ter that their original statement “still stands” - a Tweet they then tried to delete - the Obama administration disavowed the embassy's statement).

Mr. Romney's statement, which also came out before news that J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, had been killed in the attacks, quickly came under fire from Democrats, who accused him of politicizing the violence in the Middle East at a particularly delicate time.

“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, in an e-mail statement.

The crisis comes as Mr. Romney has been on the defensive on the foreign policy front, as his campaign has been struggling to respond to criticism from Democrats and even some on the right for failing to mention, during his address at his party's na tional convention in Tampa, Fla., the war in Afghanistan or to thank American troops abroad.

On Wednesday, Mr. Romney canceled a campaign event so he could address the crisis.

“I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation,” Mr. Romney said at the Wednesday morning press conference. “An apology for America's values is never the right course.”

Asked if politics should come to a halt in the wake of the deaths of four Americans, Mr. Romney replied: “We have a campaign for presidency of the United States and are speaking about the different courses we would each take with regards to the challenges that the world faces.”