Romney's slamming of Obama backfires
13 September 2012, 10:01
Washington - For Mitt Romney, it began late on
Tuesday as an aggressive effort to criticise President Barack Obama's
policies in Egypt and Libya by portraying the administration as
apologetic while mobs attacked the US consulate in Benghazi and the
embassy in Cairo.
By the end of the day on Wednesday, Romney's
venture into a fast-moving foreign policy crisis that involved the
slayings of the US ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats had
become a public relations debacle for the Republican's presidential
Obama ridiculed Romney as someone who has a tendency to
"shoot first and aim later", and even fellow Republicans were saying
Romney's attempt to spark a legitimate debate on Obama's policies could
be seen as unsavoury political opportunism.
himself into the affair late on Tuesday by blasting a statement by the
US embassy in Cairo in which US officials criticised an anti-Islamic
video that was leading to protests in Cairo, Benghazi and other Arab
The embassy's statement was an apparent attempt to ease
tensions in Cairo before protesters got out of hand. Later in the day,
however, the protesters stormed the embassy walls and tore down the
embassy's US flag.
That was about the time that Romney, back in
the United States, cited the embassy's pre-assault statement and said it
was "disgraceful" that the Obama administration's first instinct in the
Cairo episode had been to sympathise with the mob that attacked the
'Shoot first, aim later'
that criticism to reporters on Wednesday morning - even after the scope
of the attacks was clear in Cairo and in Benghazi, where US Ambassador
Christopher Stevens and three others were killed.
response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the
sovereignty of our nation, and apology for American values is never the
right course," Romney said at a news conference in Jacksonville,
Florida, still pushing the mistaken idea that the Cairo embassy's
statement had been issued after the protesters had attacked the embassy.
responded on Wednesday afternoon in an interview with CBS News, saying
there was "a broader lesson" to be learned from Romney's comments.
Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later," said
Obama, whose administration distanced itself from the Cairo embassy's
statement even as it emphasised that Romney had misunderstood when the
statement had been issued.
"As president," Obama added, "one of
the things I've learned is you can't do that. That it's important for
you to make sure that the statements you make are backed up by the
Asked whether he thought Romney's comments were irresponsible, Obama said: "I'll let the American people judge that."
Scoring points on a tragedy
remarks drew criticism from foreign policy analysts, Democrats and even
some Republicans for breaking a longstanding tradition of rallying
around a president at a time of crisis.
Many also accused Romney of being too quick to try to make a political point out of what turned out to be a tragedy.
probably should have waited," former Republican senator John E Sununu
of New Hampshire said on MSNBC. "You look at the way things unfolded,
you look at the timing of it, they probably should have waited."
insistence on criticising Obama's administration over Wednesday's
events had Democrats recalling the Republican's gaffes during a trip
abroad in July, and Republicans cringing at what many saw as a botched
chance to raise questions about the effectiveness of Obama's policies in
the Middle East.
Republican Peggy Noonan, a former speech writer
for President Ronald Reagan and a Wall Street Journal columnist, said
on Fox News that Romney was leaving himself open to accusations that he
had exploited the attacks for political gain.
"I don't feel that
Mr Romney has been doing himself any favours in the past few hours," she
said. "When you step forward in the midst of a political environment
and start giving statements on something dramatic and violent that has
happened, you're always leaving yourself open to accusations that you
are trying to exploit things politically."
slightly behind Obama in opinion polls ahead of the 6 November
election, Romney is under pressure to polish his foreign policy and
national security credentials after his series of blunders during the
At that time, Romney angered Britons with questions
about London's readiness to host the Olympic Games and Palestinians with
comments about their culture differences with Israel.
Republican National Convention last month, he drew criticism for not
mentioning the war in Afghanistan during the speech in which he accepted
the party's presidential nomination.
Obama opted for a cautious
strategy in the series of Arab Spring uprisings that shook the Middle
East last year. He steered clear of a dominant role for the US military
and drew criticism from Republicans at home for a lack of forceful
Several analysts said on Wednesday that Romney had
fumbled his opportunity to attack Obama for first encouraging the
overthrow of authoritarian leaders in Libya and Egypt and then failing
to stem the growing tide of anti-US Islamists.
"In every way,
what has been happening is a reflection of the Obama administration's
unwillingness to engage in serious US policy throughout the region,"
said Danielle Pletka, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
"We have no coherent policy in the Middle East."
Support for Romney
steered clear of the political storm over Egypt and Libya during an
appearance on Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the
White House, calling the attacks "outrageous and shocking" and pledging
to work with the Libyan government to ensure justice was done.
Some Republicans tried to rally around Romney, and by extension his version of Wednesday's events.
Romney is absolutely right, there is no justification for these deadly
attacks and we should never apologise for American freedom," US Senator
Jim DeMint of South Carolina said.
Reince Preibus, chairperson of
the Republican National Committee, said on Twitter on Tuesday night
that "Obama sympathises with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic."
Cordesman, a military analyst at the Centre for Strategic and
International Studies, cautioned against political overreactions to
"It may be the duty of an opposition candidate to
criticise and challenge, but not at the cost of America's strategic
interests, lasting relations with key nations in the Middle East, or
somehow making this an issue that puts Christian against Muslim or the
West against the Arab world," he said.
No options offered
protests in Libya and Egypt came on Tuesday as Obama spoke for an hour
with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the two leaders
believed to be at odds over whether to launch a pre-emptive attack on
Iran's nuclear facilities.
Romney met Netanyahu during his
foreign trip in July and has talked tough against Iran as he seeks to
court Jewish-American voters who traditionally support Democrats.
While Romney has been critical of Obama's approach on Iran, he has not spelled out what he would do differently.