Fairfax, Virginia (CNN) – A presidential campaign that has, until recently, focused almost exclusively on the nation's struggling economy entered a second day of forceful foreign policy debate Thursday, with GOP nominee Mitt Romney again criticizing President Barack Obama's strategy in dealing with attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya.
At a rally in a northern Virginia suburb of Washington, Romney offered his condolences for families of American diplomatic workers who died at the American consulate in Benghazi - including Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya - but quickly turned to a barbed critique of how Obama has positioned the United States in the world.
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"As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we're at the mercy of events instead of shaping events, and a strong America is essential to shape events," Romney said.
Obama, also campaigning Thursday, did not mention Romney's criticisms, but did issue a warning to the perpetrators of Tuesday's killings.
"I want all of you to know that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice," Obama said to applause at a campaign stop in Colorado. "I want people around the world to hear me, to all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America."
The aggressive stance from Obama was a contrast to the image Romney began painting of the president late Tuesday, when his campaign issued a statement calling the Obama administration's response to an assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo "disgraceful." That statement came before news broke that America's ambassador to Libya had died in an attack on a consulate in Benghazi.
On Wednesday, Romney continued that approach, saying Obama had "demonstrated a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy."
"I think it is a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," Romney also said. "That instead 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."
In his remarks, Romney again accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with the instigators of the violence in Cairo, citing a statement released by the American embassy there stating it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
A timeline of events Tuesday suggests Romney was mistaken in that allegation, since the violence came after the first statement was published. A later tweet from the embassy, which was subsequently deleted, indicated the embassy was standing by their original statement and also condemning the protests.
Reaction to Romney's sharply negative tack has been mixed. Obama, along with other Democrats, pushed back, saying Romney was injecting politics during a time of still-developing international crisis. Like Romney, Obama did not mince words about his political opponent.
"Gov. 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 during an interview with CBS. "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 them."
Former Ambassador Nick Burns, who served in the administrations of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said he was "dismayed" by Romney's choice to inject politics into what he said was a "very difficult situation" for the United States.
"I think it's time for Americans to stand together and I hope Gov. Romney would stand with the administration," Burns said, also on CNN.
Republicans have largely refrained from criticizing their party's nominee, at least publically. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee and the ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wouldn't support or chastise Romney's stance on CNN Thursday morning, saying only that he agreed Obama's policy toward the Middle East was weak.
"Now the tick tock back and forth is something, frankly, I didn't pay attention to," McCain said on "Starting Point."
"I do know this. Americans are outraged when our embassy is attacked and the Egyptian government does not take the proper measures to protect it," McCain continued. "How much that affects our relationship with Egypt, I think, is something we have to carefully calibrate, recognizing how important a role Egypt is in the entire Middle East."
Other conservative voices, including the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, also attempted to shield Romney from critics.
"As Tuesday's events showed, pandering to Islamists who would use the video to inflame anti-American sentiment isn't going to stop the protests," read the editorial, which was published under the headline "Romney Offends the Pundits."
"His political faux pax (sic) was to offend a pundit class that wants to cede the foreign policy debate to Mr. Obama without thinking seriously about the trouble for America that is building in the world," it continued.
This week's deviation to foreign policy comes after more than a year of a near-singular campaign focus on jobs and the economy. The topic re-entered the political discussion following the Republican National Convention at the end of August, when Democrats piled on Romney for not mentioning Afghanistan in his speech accepting the GOP presidential nomination.
Later, during their own convention, Democrats highlighted support for American troops currently in war zones and the president's successful foreign policy actions, including the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. This particular thread was viewed by many as successfully positioning Obama ahead of Romney on an issue that Democrats have traditionally not seen as a strength.
Voters consistently say in polls Obama would better handle America's relationships with other countries if re-elected. In the latest CNN/ORC International survey released earlier this week, Obama had a 54%-42% advantage over Romney on foreign policy.
CNN's Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.
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Hi Mitty , think you do not know your Apples from your Pares, so do not dabble in things that you do not understand
It's hard to believe that Romey would dishonor the dead Americans and the United States by trying to turn their sacrifice into a cheap political commercial . My experience tells me that only the ultra rich can be that insensitive. Hec
He does not give the office of the presidency honor by appearing in Las Vegas last night. He doesn't show respect for the murdered U.S. citizens, or show any ounce of leadership. His priorities are to raise money to fund his radical agenda for America – which incidentally contributed to the chaos we are witnessing against the U.S. in the Middle East right now. And how many presidents have you seen deploying troops into harms' way while being applauded at a rally in Las Vegas!!??
Someone from the GOP better take that shovel away from Romney. If he digs that hole any deeper he'll hit China.
It's like living in a bad dream listening to the GOP comments here. Do you guys remember anything? Do the words: Terror Alert Orange... Terror Alert Red... Anthrax... or the Twin Towers ring a bell? Unless you all are 3 years old, you have no excuse for your anti Obama foreign policy comments. YOU ARE SAFE NOW, I can't stand your whining and your thinking tough lines in the sand and another war will make you safer. Grow up, turn off Fox news, and enjoy the fact that you are not hiding inside afraid of anyone who's not white like you were with our last President.
only thing that matters to repubs is that Mittens have 5 digits on his hand so sign what they tell him to sign!
News flash to Romney's brilliant foreign policy advisers–we already had one trigger-happy President this century, who brought two misguided wars and trillions in current and future debt. Now Romney is going around half-cocked, insulting our friends and our enemies, and already planning his first war in Iran. Sorry, the American people will not elect this Amateur!
An informed observer will not be surprised by Gov. Romney's comments. Such venomous tripe merely reinforces what a poor candidate he truly is.
What is far more disconcerting to me is the closeness of the race for the White House. That Messrs Romney and Ryan can fabricate and prevaricate at every turn, and maintain a cadre of supporters is sickening to me.
This support valids the suspician that
With the timeline of events absolutely proving Romney wrong, why does he bullishly continue his course? Loose lips sink ships. Can America believe anything he says if he consistently fails to learn the facts before shooting off his mouth. Watch out, folks. With him in office, the worst is yet to come.
Can't blame Pelosi–she's tired of Ryan's hypocrisy just like the rest of us.
The bottom line is this Romney messed up. You never go against the President nor the country in a time of national and global situation. He thought he was looking Presidential and wound up looking like an horse behind.
>Asturiano - Does he have the brass to call for a tax increase for all the military spending he is promoting
does obama have the brass to raise taxes $1.5 trillion a year to cover his yearly deficit??? or does he have the brass pass it on to the one and two years olds that don't yet know how to flip him the bird?
Romeny demonstrated that he does not know how to be presidential. He is an ungifted and unskilled international statesman. He lies about the apology that was not here and he lies about the time line. All for cheap political gain. These poor decsions will hurt him in the polls and demonstrates a politically desperate indivdual.
Romney's lost it. He's been told repeatedly that his only chance is to hammer Obama on the economy. He's gone off message with a lying statement and created an issue he can't win.
""As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we're at the mercy of events instead of shaping events, and a strong America is essential to shape events," Romney said.".................so that is robo-Romney's code word for I only want all of America's money and really don't give a darn about anything else in America.......RIGHT?
It's OK, republicans. We know that you are trying desperately to make something stick. This one won't either.
Oh, I guess these days being worth $20 million is poor! Every time someone refers to Romney as being rich and out of touch with American's it only magnifies their ignorance. Obama is worth over $20 million and parties in Vegas with J-Z and beyonce. I don't know many American's who would call that a typical Wednesday night..
Continue Mr. Robme with you dum remarks and embarrassing yourself.
"He does not give the office of the Presidency honor by appearing in Las Vegas"..........
Double standard sticking its ugly head into the fray. Check out GW Bush's agenda during his administration's
President Obama has more honor in his little finger than Mitt "I am outraged" Romney has in his entire body.
Romney has a lot of nerve accusing anyone of a "lack of clarity as to foreign policy."
This from "the most secretive candidate since Nixon" who is being "trained" by the NeoCons from the Bush years
and will allow Netanyahu to set his Middle East policy, and the State Department to do the rest.
I am more than disgusted.
By attacking president Obama, Romney is the one sending "mixed signals" to the middle east.
"if Obama gets credit for killing Bin Laden he gets credit for allowing our Ambassador, ex-navy seal and others to be killed."
What a wonderfully oversimplistic and overly generalized world you live in.
"while he secretly endorses the uprisings."
And there we have it. Is that accusation based on his "fake birth certificate" or him being a "secret muslim"....or maybe his "secret mind control brain surgery"? I really hope it's the third one....that one was lots of fun to laugh at and hasn't gotten enough play lately.
"Someone from the GOP better take that shovel away from Romney. If he digs that hole any deeper he'll hit China."
Maybe that's his trade policy...dig a tunnel all the way through to China in order to decrease shipping costs for the goods manufactured by all the Chinese labor that took our jobs with his help.