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Posted at 08:58 PM ET, 09/25/2012

Kerry rebuts Romney, suggests funding cuts may have contributed to killings in Benghazi

John Kerry has been trying to think like Mitt Romney as he stands in for the Republican nominee in presidential debate prep with Barack Obama. But in an interview on Tuesday, Kerry said it’s not easy to follow Romney’s train of thought on foreign policy.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts during a sound check at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (Jae C. Hong - AP)

“Romney has made clear that not only does he not have the judgment or vision’’ to be commander-in-chief, said the ’04 Democratic nominee, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “but he’s really been all over the map” on Afghanistan and more.

“I have trouble trying to figure out what his plan is, when he says things like ‘If I were president, Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear bomb.’ Well, guess what, Mitt Romney? They don’t and won’t.’’

Effectively, there already “is a red line,’’ on Iran’s nuclear program, Kerry insisted, and Obama “drew it again today’’ in a speech at the United Nations, where he told delegates that the U.S. will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

In a Tuesday address to the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney said the U.S. seems “at the mercy of events rather than shaping events” — and Kerry spit at that one, too: “We didn’t ask a fruit vendor in Tunisia to immolate himself” and set off the Arab Spring uprisings. “We didn’t ask Egyptians to...tweet and Facebook their way to a revolution!’’

Kerry himself gave the speech of his life at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, and admits that it was kind of a blast: “I
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney steps to the podium after an introduction by former President Bill Clinton, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. (Mark Lennihan - AP)
could’ve gone on a lot longer – but coulda, shoulda, right?”

He almost seems angrier at Romney’s criticism of the president than he did in response to the “Swiftboating” falsehoods about his Vietnam service during his presidential run.

Or maybe he’s just learned from that experience – at first, his team couldn’t believe anyone would take those charges seriously – that yes, when Romney says that there would be no protests in the Middle East if he were president, some people will nod and wonder why Obama hadn’t thought of that.

On debate prep, Kerry was mum: “The president will make up his own mind’’ about what advice to take, anyway, he said. “He’ll do his own thing.”

But knowing Romney as he does, what does he see as the most telling moment in the campaign so far?

No hestitation there, either: “The tape at the fundraiser really showed who he is – the Bain private equity guy who finds out what he has to say to close the deal and then says it.”

Demonstrators cheer after storming the headquarters of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia group in Benghazi September 21, 2012. Libyan Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia was swept from its final major military base in Benghazi in the early hours of Saturday after a mass popular uprising in support of the government, Reuters witnesses said. (ASMAA WAGUIH - REUTERS)
Of Romney’s evolution on a long list of issues, says Kerry, who was himself called a ‘flip-flopper,’ “there doesn’t seem to be a core there. I have lots of Republican friends with a core – beliefs you can’t get them over,’’ though it sounds like he’s tried. But Romney doesn’t seem to have one of those.

What’s missing from Romney has nothing to do with his money, either, volunteered Kerry, whose wife, Teresa Heinz, inherited the ketchup fortune of her first husband, Senator John Heinz (R-Pa.). “I know a lot of people who’ve grown up in privilege – Teddy Kennedy, for instance, and I had a comfortable upbringing, but I never, in military service or at any other time, lost sight of what life was like, and these comments” from Romney — “I’ll bet you $10,000,” for instance — suggest that he has.

The idea that Obama is overly sympathetic to Palestinians didn’t originate with Romney, of course; last year, my daughter went with some friends to a meeting of a club for Jewish kids and came home asking, “Mom, why didn’t you tell me Obama had thrown Israel under the bus?’’ (Answer from this Catholic mamma: Oy.)

But his constant repetition of this charge is beyond galling, Kerry said: “He is just not telling the truth, which is that [under Obama] there have been the most extensive, frequent, in-depth coordination with Israel in
Former US President Bill Clinton looks at his wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting September 24, 2012 in New York. (STEPHEN CHERNIN - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
our history.”

On Romney’s statements the night and morning after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi, when the former governor called Obama sympathetic to the terrorists responsible for the attack, Kerry said, “You generally don’t want to be quite so craven” in a crisis.

Asked about reports that the security at the consulate in Benghazi was seriously sub-par, though, Kerry made his own accusations: “The answer is, look at who the people are around here who’ve been cutting the budget; Hillary’s been up here and I’ve been screaming about it and Dick Lugar, to his credit,” has been, too.

Is he saying budget cuts played a role in the attack? “They’re having to make decisions all the time,” about how and where to spend on security. “I can’t tell you it fell into that,” he said, but is eager to find out.

As are we all, Senator. As meandering as Romney’s foreign policy is — consistent only in that whatever Obama has done he’s sure to say was wrong — the security lapse that obviously did leave Benghazi vulnerable and four Americans dead is a criticism that Romney might level to great effect if he hadn’t compromised his credibility by claiming that our president looks favorably on our enemies.

Though a whole slew of investigations have been launched, at this rate the election will have come and gone before we find out exactly what happened. Hopefully we’ll learn the details before they become an issue in the expected ‘16 campaign of our current secretary of state, who at some point will have to account for them.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

By  |  08:58 PM ET, 09/25/2012

Tags:  John Kerry, Mitt Romney, foreign affairs, Benghazi, presidential race, presidential debates, Hillary Clinton, state department

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