Romney Seeks Political Advantage in Mideast Violence

Romney chastises Obama administration's response to attacks in Egypt, Libya.

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Deadly attacks on American embassies in Egypt and Libya elicited joint condemnation on the presidential political trail, but Republican nominee Mitt Romney also sought to turn the foreign crisis into a domestic campaign issue.

The attacks were perpetrated by armed Islamic protesters upset over the contents of an anti-Islamic film. The film, shot by an Israeli based in Southern California, is being promoted by Terry Jones, a Florida-based Christian pastor who prompted riots in Afghanistan after threatening to hold a Quran burning.

Romney, reacting to a statement distributed by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, issued a statement to reporters on Tuesday night blasting the Obama administration for their reaction to the initial unrest.

"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," he said inn an E-mail to reporters. "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

The embassy's statement was issued hours prior to the initial protests and sought to quell the burgeoning violence, not made in apology, according to reports.

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"The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions," it read. "Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Later, insurgents stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and replaced the American flag with a black one and it was learned that four American diplomats, including American Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, were killed in a similar attack in Benghazi.

The Obama campaign quickly fired back in response to Romney's late night remarks.

"We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Gov. Romney would choose to launch a political attack," said Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, in a release on Tuesday night.

The White House also pushed back against the controversial embassy statement at the time, saying it had not been cleared through Washington, D.C.

But that was not enough to stop Romney, and many conservatives online, from denouncing President Obama's handling of the violent situation.

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"The White House also issued a statement saying it tried to distance itself from those comments and said they were not reflecting of their views. I had the exact same reaction. These views were inappropriate; they were the wrong course to take," Romney said during a Wednesday morning press briefing from the campaign trail.

When asked by reporters how he would have handled things differently, Romney said, "I don't think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles."

He insisted that the embassy's statement is the president's responsibility.

Frank Sesno, a professor of media and international affairs at George Washington University, says Romney is taking a bit of a risk by being so quick to criticize Obama.

"Romney has to make sure that every word he utters if he's going to attack the president of the United States lands cleanly and is not going to be subject to revision," he says. "This is the most difficult part of a campaign because what happens around the world is unpredictable by its nature, it's often murky as it unfolds and the campaigns are always real-time."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in remarks made Wednesday morning, said the attack "should shock the conscience of people of all faith around the world."

"This was an attack by a small, savage group, not the people or government of Libya," she said. "America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the beginning of our nation, but let me be clear: there is no justification for this. None. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith and as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace."