(Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is stepping up criticism of the White House's handling of foreign affairs in the Middle East in the wake of terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador. Romney condemned a statement from the Libyan embassy that seemed to mollify terrorists even as the White House avowed it, and is criticizing Obama for stepping away from plans for a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu just before the attacks.
On Tuesday, as Americans around the world were remembering the sacrifices of those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks 11 years ago, American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, along with three others, was killed in an attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi by a mob angry over a film produced in America mocking the founder of Islam.
Prior to the attack, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement in an attempt to appease Muslims, saying, "The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
But as both campaigns moved away from their one-day commitment not to attack one another as America mourned those who died in the 9/11 attacks, the Romney campaign issued a statement late Tuesday night criticizing the Obama administration for sympathizing with Muslims instead of condemning any violent response after news of the attacks spread.
"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." Romney also said he was "outraged" at the attacks on the embassy and consulate.
However, the Obama campaign quickly fired back, criticizing the GOP nominee for speaking up too soon and trying to gain political points by taking advantage of the situation. Spokesperson Ben LaBolt, speaking on behalf of the president's campaign, issued a statement aimed directly at Romney's comments.
"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 LaBolt.
Nonetheless, Romney stood by his comments in a Wednesday morning press conference in Florida, saying the Obama administration's response was "akin to apology" and a "severe miscalculation."
"An apology for America's values is never the right course," said Romney. He later defended his early entry into the situation, saying the Obama administration was sending mixed messages to the world and that any statement from an embassy is also a statement of the administration.
Yet Romney's actions were also criticized by some conservative columnists such as The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, who in an appearance on Fox News Wednesday morning said she felt the former Massachusetts governor spoke up too soon and "has not been doing himself any favors" in the past few hours.
"I was thinking as he spoke, I think I belong to the old school of thinking that in times of great drama and heightened crisis, and in times when something violent has happened to your people, I always think discretion is the better way to go," Noonan 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."
Meanwhile, as the White House is dealing with issues involving Muslim unrest, they also have to address criticism that President Obama rejected a request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has a U.S. visit planned for later this month.
On Tuesday morning, Israeli officials confirmed to Fox News that administration officials declined to meet with their prime minister, a fact that was also confirmed by a White House spokesman.
But later the same day, a statement was released by the White House denying that any formal offer to meet in Washington was made by Netanyahu's office. "Contrary to reports in the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied," the statement read.
The White House did confirm that President Obama had an hour-long conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu and that they did discuss the issue of Iran's nuclear threat to the Jewish nation. If supporters of Israel, including Jewish Democrats who have stood by President Obama, feel they or Netanyahu is being stubbed, then the president could risk losing much needed support with just 53 days remaining until Election Day.
Fox News also reported that a "well-placed Jewish-American" had advised them that the White House has not ruled out a meeting with Netanyahu and could still rearrange the president's schedule prior to the prime minister's arrival.