President Barack Obama fired back Wednesday at Mitt Romney’s clumsy attempt to gain political mileage from the tragic attacks on two U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East.
In an interview with CBS, the president accused his Republican rival of having a “shoot first and aim later” approach to foreign policy.
The bungled attempt to inject himself into an international crisis that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya, John Christopher Stevens, is widely seen as a major blunder for the Romney campaign. The statement’s poor timing and its lack of accurate information have hardly helped Romney’s bid to seen as a statesman capable of serving as our nation’s next commander-in-chief.
Obama had initially stayed above the fray, declining to engage the former Massachusetts governor following his initial assertion that the administration’s “first response” to attacks on American diplomatic missions in Cairo and Benghazi was to “sympathize” with those who killed Americans.
Obama was singing a different tune by the afternoon, telling “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft that “Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”
“And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that,” Obama said. “That, you know, it’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make ’em.”
The president went on during the interview to sharply condemn Romney’s criticisms as out of place in the aftermath of the violence. In Egypt, rioters had stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down its American flag. In Libya, they took the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in clashes that left four dead, including Stevens. Romney accused Obama of apologizing for American values.
“I think most Americans—Democrats or Republicans—understand that there are times when we set politics aside, and one of those is when we’ve got a direct threat to American personnel who are overseas,” Carney read from the full CBS version of the conversation.
“If you look at how most Republicans have reacted, most elected officials, they’ve reacted responsibly, waiting to find out the facts before they talk, making sure that our number one priority is the safety and security of American personnel. It appears that Governor Romney didn’t have his facts right.”
Romney’s early criticism stemmed from a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo before the protests there escalated, condemning an anti-Islam film that has drawn angry denunciations in the Muslim world. While some linked rage at the movie to the violence in Egypt and Libya, U.S. officials say they are looking into whether the attack in Benghazi was a plot by an organized group.
Obama said there’s “never an excuse for violence against Americans, which is why my number one priority and my initial statement focused on making sure that not only are Americans safe, but that we go after anybody, who would attack Americans,” the spokesman quoted Obama as saying.
Obama hedged when asked whether Romney’s comments were irresponsible.
“I’ll let the American people judge that,” he said.
The unrest in the Arab World over the inflammatory video had spread to Yemen by Thursday as hundreds of protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy.