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Romney's attack on Obama over Libya crisis backfires

Following Tuesday's deadly attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney slammed incumbent Barack Obama’s handling of the situation - a move that has drawn sharp criticism itself.


With the United States still reeling from news of the deadly attack on its consulate in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, the incident has wormed its way into the heart of the US presidential campaign.

In the wake of the assault, which left US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, Obama stepped forward to condemn the act, vowing “to bring to justice” those responsible. The attack, which took place on Tuesday, is the first time a US ambassador has been killed in more than 30 years.

“No justification for this type of senseless violence,” says President Barack Obama

As Obama struggled to deal with the unfolding crisis, Romney hastily issued a harshly worded statement expressing his outrage over the attacks and admonishing Obama’s response, despite having called for a temporary political reprieve to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks just hours before.

“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 said.

The following morning at a campaign office in Jacksonville, Florida, Romney elaborated on his remarks, digging his heels in as he told reporters, “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.”

Romney’s comments stemmed from a statement issued by the United States Embassy in Cairo, appealing for religious tolerance after protests erupted outside diplomatic buildings in both Egypt and Libya over a video made by a US citizen deriding the Prophet Mohammed. The statement, which condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims”, was released before the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

‘Shoot first, aim later’

Romney’s comments have since been greeted by a backlash of scathing criticism. Many saw his remarks as poorly timed, if not a crude attempt to twist tragedy into political gain.

"At a time when we should be standing together against these senseless acts of violence, Mitt Romney offered an atrocious political response that undermines our unity in the face of threats to Americans around the world”, New Jersey Democratic Senator and Democrat Frank Lautenberg said in a statement.

Lautenberg’s comments were soon echoed by other prominent Democrats, including California state Representative Mike Honda, who described Romney’s comments as “inappropriate”, and Massachusetts state Senator John Kerry, who said, “it is exactly the wrong time to throw political punches.”

In an interview with American television network CBS’ “60 minutes” programme, Obama also weighed in on the issue, saying Romney “seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later” when it comes to politics.

Even some Republicans have openly criticised Romney’s remarks. Former New Hampshire state Senator John Sununu reportedly told journalists that the presidential hopeful “should have waited” before releasing a statement, and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, a former advisor to both presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, conceded that “Romney looked weak today”.

Yet according to William Galston, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute, a liberal thinktank based in Washington D.C., Romney’s comments may have resonated with a number of US citizens.

“I’m sure that many Americans are very concerned and very angry about what happened in Libya, and they are not in a very apologetic mood”, Galston said in a televised interview with FRANCE 24. “So, Governor Romney may have gotten some heads nodding”.

Regardless, Romney has now managed to thrust foreign policy to the forefront of a presidential campaign, which up until now has largely been focused on the economy and domestic issues.

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