Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was criticized on Wednesday for criticizing President Barack Obama in the middle of a foreign policy crisis.
“Itís disgraceful that the Obama administrationís first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” said Romney.
Romney’s attack, however, was quickly condemned by neutral observers, Democrats†and Republicans. The embassy’s statement, which condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” had been issued before the attack on the embassy. The statement was not cleared through Washington.
“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 Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt in a statement.
Nevertheless, Romney reiterated the attack on Wednesday, saying in a press conference that the embassy “clearly sent mixed messages to the world, and the statement that came from the administration, and the embassy is the administration. The statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation.”
Deadly Attacks Kill Four
While nobody was injured in the attack on the embassy in Cairo, the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens.
In a televised statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks in no uncertain terms.
“This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world,” Clinton said. “We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence and we send our prayers to the families, friends and colleagues of those weíve lost.”
Clinton added that the attacks had been carried out by a “small and savage group” that did not represent the Libyan government or people.
President Obama also condemned the “outrageous and shocking attack,”†saying the victims “exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.”
Libya’s interim president, Mohammed el-Megarif, called the attack “cowardly,” and vowed to bring the attackers to justice.
“We extend our apology to America, the American people and the whole world,” el-Megarif said.
Romney Blasted for Attacks
Romney’s condemnation of Obama drew condemnation itself, as media observers quickly declared Romney’s statement out-of-bounds.
NBC’s First Read blasted Romney’s attack,†calling it “one of the most over-the-top and (it turns out) incorrect attacks of the general-election campaign.”†Time†magazine’s Mark Halperin, who has a reputation of being†overly solicitous of conservatives, also†criticized Romney. “Unless the Romney campaign has gamed this crisis out in some manner completely invisible to [me], his doubling down on criticism of the President for the statement coming out of Cairo is likely to be seen as one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign,” Halperin wrote.
Romney was also criticized by fellow Republicans.
An†unnamed Republican foreign policy expert, speaking to Buzzfeed, said, “They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now itís just completely blown up.” Noting that the Romney campaign has tried to steer clear of discussing foreign policy, the GOPer said, “This is just unbelievable ó when they decide to play on it they completely bungle it.”
While no Republicans condemned Romney on the record, Republicans on Capitol Hill†chose not to echo Romney’s criticism. Statements from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned the attacks, but made no mention of Obama.
Unwritten Rules, Hypocrisy
Romney caught flak in no small part because he violated one of the unwritten rules of a presidential campaign — never criticize the president in the middle of a crisis. While foreign policy disagreements are commonplace in campaigns, it’s been generally recognized that at a moment of crisis, the president needs to be respected as the primary voice advancing American foreign policy.
Romney’s attack also opened him up to charges of hypocrisy, as Romney himself has advocated a position very similar to that advanced in the Cairo embassy’s statement. In 2010, speaking in the wake of Afghan riots sparked by the threatened burning of a Qur’an, Romney said, “Burning the Quran is wrong on every level. It puts troops in danger, and it violates a founding principle of our republic.”
The Romney campaign has tried to keep the focus on domestic policy during the campaign, even calling foreign policy a “distraction” and a “shiny object.” After Romney’s foreign policy stumbles, both here and abroad, it’s clear why the Romney campaign wants to talk about pretty much anything else.
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