Mitt Romney issued a statement late Tuesday, before the full extent of the tragedy was known, that said the Obama administration was wrong to initially sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Romney said in a statement — released before he learned of the death of Stevens. “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.”
According to The Hill, Romney canceled a campaign event Wednesday but doubled down on his criticism in remarks to reporters in Florida.
“President Obama has demonstrated a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy,” Romney said. “I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions.
Romney quickly scrapped a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Fla., dismantling a campaign stage, and instead held a small press conference in which he repeatedly defended his criticism of the administration, slamming embassy officials in Cairo and President Obama.
“When our grounds are being attacked, and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. And apology for America’s values is never the right course,” Romney said, slamming the Obama administration for “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks.”
Romney’s assault on Obama was rare among Republicans. Sarah Palin and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus joined him in condemning the president, writes The Huff Post.
Reince Preibus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on Twitter on Tuesday night that “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”
“Governor Romney is absolutely right, there is no justification for these deadly attacks and we should never apologize for American freedom,” U.S. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said.
At the same time, writes Reuters, Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, cautioned against political overreactions to foreign events.
“It may be the duty of an opposition candidate to criticize 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.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) all put out statements on the crisis, none attacking Obama.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama, meanwhile, struck a somber and emotional tone, offering remembrances for the American diplomats who lost their lives in the violence.
“We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” Obama said, referencing the anti-Islamic video, “but there is no justification for this kind of violence. None. It is especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it’s a city he helped to save at the height of the Libyan revolution.”
Obama also praised Stevens, calling him a “courageous and exemplary representative of the United States.”
“His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice,” Obama said.
With her eyes occasionally watering, Hillary Clinton spoke at length about Ambassador Stevens, whom she knew well and whom she had personally dispatched to Libya at the beginning to the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, to be the American attache to the rebel leadership.
“This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world,” she said. “We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence.”
“He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building our relationship with the Libyan revolutionaries,” Clinton said. “He risked his life to stop a tyrant, then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya. The world needs more Chris Stevenses.”
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” she added. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
Later Barack Obama responded on Wednesday afternoon in an interview with CBS News, saying there was “a broader lesson” to be learned from Romney’s comments.
“Governor 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 emphasized that Romney had misunderstood when the statement had been issued.
“As president,” Obama said , “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 facts.”
When asked whether he thought Romney’s comments were irresponsible, Obama said: “I’ll let the American people judge that.”