Williamson added, “In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations — the respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and we can’t even protect sovereign American property.”
The aggressive approach by Romney’s campaign thrust the issue of foreign policy to the forefront of the presidential campaign a day after the Republican candidate was widely criticized for blasting Obama while U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya were under attack.
Criticism from Republicans over their nominee’s handling of the situation overseas quieted Thursday, with influential voices in the party’s foreign policy establishment rallying to Romney’s defense. And it was Obama who faced criticism for saying that he did not consider Egypt an ally — a comment that his administration struggled to explain.
“The president can’t even keep track of who’s our ally or not. This is amateur hour — it’s amateur hour,” said Williamson, a former assistant secretary of state and ambassador. He was among those who counseled Romney to respond aggressively on Tuesday night and was offered by the campaign to speak about the candidate’s foreign policy.
Williamson was referring to Obama’s interview Wednesday night with Telemundo in which the president said that the U.S. relationship with Egypt was a “work in progress.”
“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” Obama told Telemundo. “They’re a new government that is trying to find its way.”
Administration officials tried throughout the day to parse Obama’s statement on Egypt without appearing to contradict him.
Obama was right in “diplomatic and legal terms,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, because “ ‘ally’ is a legal term of art” that refers to countries with which the United States has a mutual defense treaty such as the NATO alliance.
But the United States tried to work around just that problem in 1989, creating the designation of “major non-NATO ally” for countries on which it wanted to bestow approval, weapons sales and defense cooperation prohibited to non-treaty nations. Egypt — along with Israel, Australia, Japan and South Korea — was among the first countries to be so designated that year.
Pressed to explain why a “major non-NATO ally” is not an ally, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland repeated the treaty argument, then referred reporters to the White House. Later asked whether the United States still considers Egypt a “major non-NATO ally,” Nuland said “Yes.”
At campaign stops in Nevada and Colorado, Obama avoided any mention of Romney as he paid tribute to those who lost their lives in Libya and again promised to track down their killers.