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Supporters cheer on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during a rally Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. (Associated Press)

Supporters cheer on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during a rally Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. (Associated Press)

Beam: Did Romney react too quickly?

Last Modified: Friday, September 14, 2012 8:54 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Did Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney jump the gun in his criticism of President Obama’s handling of the Middle East crisis? Probably, but many Americans have run out of patience watching attacks on their embassies and seeing their flag torn to shreds and burned.

Protests that began early last week over a movie made by extremists maligning the prophet Mohammed continued Friday and spread to 20 countries in the Muslim world. Four Americans died in Tuesday attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Middle East riots have become routine anytime Muslims believe their faith is under attack. That’s understandable, but the killing of innocent Americans and the destruction of embassy property should never be accepted or tolerated.

The Obama administration has to ask itself whether it was adequately prepared to handle events of the past week. Did it provide embassy personnel with essential military protection and other security measures?

Sending Marines and warships after the fact won’t get the job done. Americans want a quicker response from their leaders. Right or wrong, Romney did react and give citizens a sense that someone understands their frustrations.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement about the anti-Muslim film before the attack on its facilities. Here is what it said:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals (makers of the anti-Muslim film) to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend the believers of all religions,” the embassy said.

Romney called the statement disgraceful and “akin to apology.” He added later, “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.”

Obama accused Romney of not having his facts right and said he has “a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”

The president, in an interview for “60 Minutes,” said, “And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is, you can’t do that. It’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts.”

Obama did talk tough at a Las Vegas political rally.

“No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America,” Obama said.

That is certainly a proper response, but will the country live up to that promise before — and not after — events like those of last week?

National Journal, a weekly political news magazine, said two senior Romney advisers didn’t think their candidate was out of line.

The magazine said, “...The larger point, the advisers said, was that neither the Obama State Department nor the White House withdrew it (the embassy statement) or repudiated it while the crisis was unfolding in Cairo or in the streets outside the consulate in Benghazi (Libya). The White House began distancing itself from the original Cairo embassy statement after Romney leveled his criticism shortly after 10 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday.”

Republicans were mixed in their reaction to Romney’s criticism of the administration. Some conservatives came to his defense, and there were scattered critics. However, those in congressional leadership posts mostly refused to discuss the issue.

“This was a story that was building the entire day,” a senior Romney official told the National Journal. “With the killing of a U.S. diplomat, it is the type of thing where the Republican nominee for president has to have a response. This was a big deal. And the statement was about the consistent failure of this administration to engage constructively with the aftermath of the Arab Spring.”

Only time will tell whether Romney’s reaction in this instance will hurt his election chances. Some believe it shows his inexperience in foreign policy, but supporters think it will help his candidacy because it shows decisiveness and a willingness to let the rest of the world know where he stands.

The Advocate of Baton Rouge took Romney to task in an editorial, saying he “immediately sought to exploit the situation — and shot himself in the rhetorical foot.” The newspaper said it was time for Romney to back down.

Not surprisingly, most of the half-dozen Advocate readers who commented on the editorial didn’t like it. They called it propaganda for the Obama administration and support of national media talking points.

National Journal said the larger question in all of this is whether undecided voters will see Romney’s criticism as a sign of his “foreign-policy steel and insight, or as crass and possibly inept opportunism.”

You can be certain this issue will be front and center when Obama and Romney participate in a town hall meeting format on Oct. 16 and when they debate foreign policy on Oct. 22. After that, voters will have the last word on Romney’s actions at the ballot box on Nov. 6.

•••
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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