Romney steps up Obama criticism

BURLINGTON, Mass. (AP) — Amid violent flare

ups in the Middle East, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is

trying to

prove his own readiness to be commander in chief and force

President Barack Obama to answer for turmoil in places like Libya,

where terrorists killed the U.S. ambassador on the anniversary of

9/11.

Romney advisers argue that the stepped-up foreign policy criticism dovetails with a key piece of his central argument: Obama

is in over his head, and the country will be worse off if he gets a second term.

Yet, Romney’s TV advertising is largely

focused on the economy and jobs — voters’ No. 1 issue — ahead of

Wednesday’s presidential

debate. All that’s leaving Romney open to criticism that his

campaign is searching for a winning pitch just one month before

the election and with voting under way in many states.

“Our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We’re not moving them in a direction that protects

our people or our allies. And that’s dangerous,” Romney wrote in a column published Monday in the Wall Street Journal.

Romney running mate Paul Ryan weighed in, telling radio host Laura Ingraham that Obama’s administration hasn’t given the public

the full story on the circumstances that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi.

“It’s really indicative of a broader failure of this administration’s foreign policy and the crisis that is taking place across

the Middle East,” Ryan said. “It is clear the administration’s policy unraveled.”

The Obama campaign reacted dismissively, noting that Osama bin Laden is dead and arguing that the Obama administration has

taken a hard line on Iran to dissuade it from creating a nuclear weapon.

“I don’t think the American people are

looking for chest thumping and empty rhetoric and that’s really what

we’re hearing

from the Romney-Ryan team,” campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on

MSNBC. She said Romney’s opinion piece lacks “a real vision

for leading the country as commander in chief.”

Romney’s intense focus on foreign

policy is intended to undercut what the Obama campaign has seen as the

president’s ironclad

international affairs credentials — and send a message to voters

that they can trust the Republican on foreign policy despite

limited experience. To that end, Romney’s advisers said he’s

planning a major foreign policy speech, to be delivered some

time after Wednesday’s debate.

Foreign policy is the latest in a

series of political openings that Romney has tried to exploit in recent

weeks, as he has

slipped behind the president in polls. National surveys show the

president ahead in a tight contest. In recent weeks, Romney

also has castigated Obama on the coal industry, defense cuts,

wealth redistribution and the president’s comment that it’s

not possible to change Washington from the inside.

But unlike some of those issues, Romney’s campaign hasn’t put serious money behind the foreign policy line of criticism.

Paid TV ads in key states don’t largely

mention international affairs. The third-party group American

Crossroads has a produced

a Web video assailing Obama’s foreign policy, but it’s not on the

air. Polls show foreign policy far down on the list of voters’

concerns and Obama leads Romney on the issue.

Romney’s campaign had spent much of the year focusing its argument against Obama’s handling of the economy.

Then came Sept. 11, and as unrest

flared in the Middle East, Romney issued a late-night statement

assailing Obama before it

was clear that Stevens and three other Americans had been killed

in the terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The timing of Romney’s initial response prompted heartburn within

the GOP. Yet, Romney pressed ahead with his criticism that

Obama was a weak leader whose posture abroad was hurting U.S.

interests, and congressional Republicans have piled on about

the administration’s changing statements on the Libya attack.

Of late, the administration’s statements on Libya have evolved, with officials struggling to explain just what happened in

Benghazi.

White House adviser David Plouffe seemed to struggle Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when pressed on the matter.

“This was an event obviously, a complex

event. We’re only talking about a matter of weeks here,” Plouffe said.

“So as information

was arrived at, as determinations were made, that was shared with

the American people. And I think again the focus needs to

be how do we make sure that our facilities and our ambassadors and

our personnel are secure going forward.”

Republicans have looked to capitalize, raising questions about why the consulate in Benghazi wasn’t better protected and why

the ambassador wasn’t traveling with more security.

“It was either willful ignorance or abysmal intelligence to think that people come to spontaneous demonstrations with heavy

weapons, mortars, and the attack goes on for hours,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN on Sunday.