Sensing an opening, Mitt Romney focuses attacks on Obama’s foreign policy

September 24, 2012

Mitt Romney on Monday criticized President Obama’s comments in a recent interview where he described the eruption of violence in the Middle East as “bumps in the road,” saying that Obama has diminished America’s standing in the world and failed to lead.

“The president characterized as bumps in the road — the developments of the Middle East, we just had an ambassador assassinated. Egypt has elected a Muslim Brotherhood or person as president. Iran is on the cusp of having nuclear capability,” Romney said in an interview with NBC News. “We have tumult in Syria and also Pakistan, and I don’t consider these bumps in the road. I think this is a time for American leadership domestically; the president’s policies are a continuation of the past four years. We can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”

Romney’s comments came amid a change in course for his campaign; the Republican presidential candidate has said he will campaign more, fund raise less and draw clearer distinctions between his policy positions and the president’s ahead of next month’s debates.

At a rally here, a state where Romney trails by five points in the most recent poll, Romney reiterated his new line of attack on Obama’s foreign policy record, which has drawn increased scrutiny since the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans during an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi this month.

“Look, the world looks at the event going on. They don’t see these events as bumps in the road. These are lives. This is humanity. This is freedom,” Romney said at the rally on the airport tarmac. “Freedom must be on the march. We must stand for freedom.”

Romney, who spent much of the weekend huddled with advisers and raising money, heads to New York later Monday where he is set to deliver a foreign policy address focused on international development and trade policy.

Monday morning, his campaign suggested there would be a slight shift in strategy and that Romney would focus on cracking down on trade policy with China. But the candidate, who faced criticism from fellow Republicans over his response to the uprisings in Egypt and Libya, quickly requested interviews with the big three networks, in which he focused almost exclusively on Obama’s comments on the Middle East, signaling that he sensed an opening on the issue.

Polls have consistently shown Obama with a double-digit lead over Romney on foreign policy, but there has been a slight decline in those numbers since the most recent unrest.

Asked whether he questioned his support for the governments that came to power in the wake of the Arab Spring, Obama had said disagreements and clashes were inevitable.

“I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty — pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam—the one part of society that hasn’t been controlled completely by the government,” Obama said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night. “There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, you know, can — can be tapped into by demagogues.”

Obama campaign aides said Romney was simply trying to score political points and linked his comments to a video released last week that showed Romney suggesting that he would be able to make political gains on the issue of foreign policy.

“Today, we saw what Mitt Romney meant when he told a closed-door group of high-dollar donors that he would ‘take advantage of the opportunity’ to politicize an international crisis to help his campaign,” said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman. “He’s purposely misinterpreting the president’s words and making reckless statements about the death of four Americans in Libya, apparently for the sole purpose of his own political gain. Using this incident to launch political attacks should be beneath someone seeking to be our nation’s commander-in-chief.”

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.
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