Caught up in the middle of a roiling and deadly foreign policy crisis, Mitt Romney rejected suggestions that his campaign acted rashly in condemning the Obama administration’s reaction to fatal assaults against U.S. diplomats in Libya and a violent raid against the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
"The administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions," Romney said at a morning press conference. "It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.”
Romney stood by earlier assertions by his campaign that the Obama administration wrongly apologized to Libyans for an anti-Muslim video.
The Obama campaign and White House officials said they were stunned by Romney’s criticism, calling it out of bounds in the midst of an on-going diplomatic tragedy.
Discrepencies between accounts of the sequence of events in a still unfolding crisis underscore the pitfalls of both presidents dealing with foreign policy crises in an election year and presidential contenders -- lacking inside intelligence and real-time information about a crisis -- wading into the fray.
Romney's decision to weigh in is generating criticism from fellow Republicans. Former Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire said on MSNBC Wednesday morning: “They probably should have waited. … You look at the way things unfolded, you look at the timing of it, they probably should have waited.”
But senior Romney advisers, who would not speak on the record, said the protests at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed along with three others, demanded a comment from the GOP nominee. The larger point of Romney’s statement, which accused the administration of initially siding with protesters in Cairo, was that Obama is misreading the violent underbelly of the Arab Spring and jeopardizing U.S. interests in the region.
“This was a story that was building the entire day,” a senior Romney official said of the developments that took place late on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. “With the killing of a U.S. diplomat, it is the type of thing where the Republican nominee for president has to have a response. This was a big deal. And the statement was about the consistent failure of this administration to engage constructively with the aftermath of the Arab Spring.”
The Romney official said the campaign’s tough criticism of the White House was meant to set in motion a larger debate about U.S. interests in a region full of new and potentially hazardous political transformation.
“This is an opportunity and a chance for us to debate existing administration policy,” the senior official said. “It will be a part of a larger criticism about the president’s policy in the region.”