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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"Candidate" Obama is too busy campaigning to keep-up with his Presidential duties....cannot meet with Prime Minister
Netanyahu to clarify his stance on Iran's nuclear program...sanction alone never worked...Does Pres Obama intend to wait until Iran's nuclear program is "Fait accompli" ? Thus leaving the People of Israel in the lurch.....
Vote for Romney if you want Bush's old pals running foreign policy. They have their agenda and it isn't the people of the United Stated. Romney is just mouthing their words. Scary.
truth hurts, I am glad to see that you and your fellow conservatives have finally gotten around to being aware of our security issues. I wish you guys had been so observant back in 2001. You know....when Bush was warned that an attack on American soil was imminent.
It never ceases to amaze me at how conservatives have suddenly become such experts at everything since 2009, but were absolutely clueless before hand.
It's beyond embarrassing that Mitt Romney is a candidate for President in this great country.
Translation: War, war and more war.
Lets just face it Romney is no leader or diplomat. Once we get beyond Romney opening his mouth and inserting his foot, every time something goes off script, we can get on with the election cycle.
Romney did the best he could. You can tell it's all over when the pundits start talking about who will be running in 16............Just sayin
I suppose Mitt would just nuke any country that would not bow before him....What a loser.
Google 1983 embassy April and October. Things happen, including under Ronald Reagan's watch. I very much doubt one member of Congress went on a tirade against Reagan back then. Yet here you and others are name calling and whining against this president.
"obama and the democrats are going to bury the facts of what happened to these murdered Americans and why it happened just like he is concealing and hiding the facts of the fast and furious fiasco. there was no reason for these people to have died if competent people were doing their job. our ambassador never should have even been at that consulate with essentially no security on the anniversary of 9/11."
World Net Daily conspiracy mumbo-jumbo is not part of a healthy breakfast.
Oooops he did it again...
maybe the president should suspend his campaign and take care of foreign policy problems. If he is so good as president, and his adoring crowds support him, why bother campaigning?
Of someone is still a follower of this clown, you have no future, as there wouldn't be no good future with this huge liability in the white house. Obama 2012!!!!
When you stand back and take a real good look, it seems that, the faith of the current prophet of the LSD and the prophet Mohammad, that the two are more similar and in-lined than different... 1) Both have abhorrent scriptures 2) Both of them love "Holy Wars" [the Mormons had their war On November 1, 1838 with USA and Islam had their war during the 11th century "Crusades"]... 3) Also, both Islam's promises "Virgins" in haven while the LSD followers promise their "Virgins" in Utah. Certainly, Mittens is just scratching for that chance to scrap with Islam and return their rightest holy covenant with America and if he gets to the White House his chips is down on the "Holy Hope" of his destiny. Romney and his partner Ryan are both mad men in search of a cause... POWER!
"If Romney's or anyone else comments helps this President find his backbone in dealing with radical muslims, then so be it. '
I'm pretty sure Obama used that backbone to put a bullet in bin Laden's brain and kill numerous high-ranking Al Qaeda officials via an exrtemely aggressive drone bombing/missle program that has some of us progressives somewhat upset with him. The problem for you GOPers/Teatrolls and your use of demagoguery to justify chest-thumpiing cowboy foreign policy for EVERYTHING is that the only tool you have is a hammer, so everything looks like a nail. I may not like drone attacks that cause civilian casualties, but at least Obama has a full tool box.
Typical BS. Obama failed leadership is somehow Romneys fault. The US is no longer viewed as a reliable ally (Israel for one of many) or an enemy to be feared. Tweeting eveidently is Obama's foriegn policy. Then delete the tweet, deny it and then stand behind it and blame Romney – lost yet? Ridiculous.
*************************************************************************************************************************************************Will, why not just own up to it. It is not the policies it is the man. And any of lying cheating Republican will do.
How can republicans consider voting for the clueless Mittens? He has been wrong on every important issue facing Americans, and he is as bad as the terrorists, as he too attacked our embassies in Libya and Egypt.
Drag the fool away from the poker table. He keeps doubling his bet. and losing...
He going to bankrupt the Repos in the House and Senate if they don"t shut him up on Foreign policy.
truth hurts – wrote:
obama and the democrats are going to bury the facts of what happened to these murdered Americans and why it happened just like he is concealing and hiding the facts of the fast and furious fiasco.
Talk about not letting facts get in the way. Do you realize that you are calling time clocks liars? Mitt's unfit. End of race.
Mitt Romney is not fit to be our President...
For Romney to use the death of a US amabassador for political gain is disgraceful. And then to lie about President Obama is shameful. I don't think the Ryan/Romney campaign can get any lower than this. Their constant lies will be their downfall.
The "vulture capitalist" has become the "vulture politician". Back to your roost, Mitt! You swooped in too early!!
Mittens' stupidity is supported by the GOP base (13 million birthers, 12 million who think that Mittens gave the order to kill bin Laden, and 22 million who think tax cuts for the wealthy creates jobs.)
Mitt has had his "3AM" call and he failed .... miserably.
Verdict: Mitt, not qualified.
another protest in Yemen today. Seems to me Robmey invited this one.