The deadly U.S. embassy attacks gripped the presidential campaign Wednesday when Republican Mitt Romney claimed that the president’s administration had been “sympathizing” with the attackers and apologizing “for American values.”
President Barack Obama’s supporters were quick to point out that Obama and the administration made no apologies or expressions of sympathy, and they accused Romney of politicizing a tragedy.
“I don’t think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles,” Romney said Wednesday in Jacksonville, echoing comments made the previous night when he criticized Obama’s handling of the situation.
The political fallout began hours after violent crowds stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three members of his diplomatic staff were killed.
“It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city he helped to save,” Obama said on Wednesday in the Rose Garden, declining to take questions from reporters or to criticize Romney.
Later in the day, Obama hit back.
“Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” Obama told CBS. “And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that.”
The website Buzzfeed quoted numerous Republican foreign-policy experts, all of whom spoke anonymously, expressing displeasure with Romney for the timing and tenor of his statements less than a day after the attacks.
Publicly, conservatives and Romney’s campaign criticized the White House for not quickly condemning the attacks or for preparing the embassy and consulate for the attacks that occurred on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The questions about what U.S. intelligence officials knew or should have known will likely dog Obama through the campaign.
Conservatives said that the attacks and Obama’s response recalled President Jimmy Carter’s response to the 1979 storming of the U.S. embassy in Iran. Earlier that same year, on Feb. 14, Adolph “Spike” Dubs was killed in Afghanistan, the last ambassador to hold that distinction until Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and intelligence committee member, said he suspects this attack was masterminded by al-Qaida in “revenge” for the recent killing by the United States of one of its leaders in Libya.
Asked how a small band of terrorists could trash a consulate and kill a U.S. ambassador, Nelson told FOX News that there needs to be an investigation and more security.
“Clearly, the security has to be increased,” Nelson said.
Both Romney and Obama strongly condemned the latest attacks and expressed sorrow for the deaths of Americans.
The violence was apparently sparked by anti-Muslim videos — one of them reportedly linked to a controversial Florida pastor. But by Wednesday afternoon, officials began to believe that the attacks had been planned and coordinated.
The Cairo embassy, not knowing this at the time, issued a written statement about the Islamic-bashing video that condemned “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”