Romney assails Obama after US ambassador's death
Mitt Romney led a chorus of Republican criticism of Barack Obama's foreign policy on Monday, accusing the president of minimizing the recent killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya as a mere "bump in the road" rather than part of a chain of events that threatens American interests.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the accusations "desperate and offensive," an attempt by the Republican presidential candidate and his allies to gain political advantage in the latter stages of a close race that seems to be trending the president's way.
Obama flew from the White House to New York, one day before he speaks to world leaders at the opening of the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The back and forth on foreign policy occurred as Romney said he was shifting to a more energetic schedule of public campaign events, bidding to reverse recent erosion in battleground state polls.
While national polls make the race exceedingly close, Obama has gained ground on Romney in many recent surveys when potential voters are asked to compare the two rivals in their ability to fix the economy. Sluggish growth and national unemployment of 8.1 percent make the economy by far the dominant issue in the race.
The same polls show Obama with a healthy lead over Romney when voters are asked which candidate is better equipped to handle foreign policy, and the president has not shied away from trumpeting his decision to order the secret mission by U.S. forces that killed terrorism mastermind Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout more than a year ago.
At the same time, Romney's advisers say voters are more inclined to question Obama's handling of foreign policy after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, earlier this month resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" over the weekend, Obama was asked if recent events in the Middle East gave him pause for supporting governments that came to power following a wave of regime changes known as the Arab Spring.
Obama responded he has long noted that events were going to be rocky, adding that the question itself "presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change."
"I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights. ... But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road."
"There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americans, and anti-Western sentiments and you know can be tapped into by demagogues," he added.
Romney was eager to talk about the topic, squeezing interviews with three television networks into his schedule and touching on the subject at the beginning of a rally in Colorado - one of several states that could swing either way in this election.
The U.S. president is not chosen by popular vote but by state-by-state elections, making states that don't reliably vote Democrat or Republican important in such a tight race.
"I can't imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road, when you look at the entire context, the assassination, the Muslim Brotherhood president being elected in Egypt, 20,000 people killed in Syria, Iran close to becoming a nuclear nation, that these are far from being bumps in the road," Romney told ABC.
U.S. officials are investigating the deaths in Libya, which occurred when the consulate was breached.
Obama has said extremists used an anti-Islam video as an excuse to assault U.S. interests overseas, including the incident in Benghazi.
Romney also took a slap Monday at Obama's handling of relations with Israel.
"The president doesn't have time to actually spend time with leaders of these nations, particularly Bibi Netanyahu, I find that very troubling," he said.
Obama pushed back on the idea that he feels pressure from Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissing the Israeli prime minister's calls for the U.S. to set a "red line" that Iran's nuclear program must not cross to avoid American military intervention.
"When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what's right for the American people," Obama said in the interview. "And I am going to block out any noise that's out there."