Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is taking flak for his criticism of President Obama's handling of the current Middle East crisis, but some conservatives are starting to rally around the GOP White House nominee for being correct on the substance even if he may have been premature in his timing.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told NBC Thursday that President Obama's foreign policy is "feckless" and has weakened the United States. South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint added that, "Governor Romney is absolutely right. There is no justification for these deadly attacks and we should never apologize for American freedom." Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Romney was "right on the larger point" but "I probably would have waited a day or half a day."
More broadly, Romney's campaign is scrambling to shift attention to Obama's foreign policy, which it calls timid and weak, and away from Romney's initial remarks. The Romney campaign sent an e-mail to reporters Thursday morning citing numerous media reports criticizing Obama's "weak leadership," Team Romney quoted former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger saying that the administration has been too conciliatory. And it referred to a Twitter comment by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that "the attacks on our embassies and diplomats are a result of perceived American weakness. Mitt Romney is right to point that out."
The Romney forces also quoted The Wall Street Journal which said on its editorial page Thursday, "the broader point is that the attacks on the embassies do raise questions about how America has fared in the world in the last four years....[Romney's] poltical faux pax was to offend a pundit class that wants to cede the foreign policy debate to Mr. Obama without thinking seriously about the trouble for America that is building in the world."
But foreign policy professionals say the first rule in dealing with an international crisis is simple: The initial reports are almost always wrong, so it's wise for crisis managers to restrain themselves in their first reactions and take a cautious approach. That's where Romney went astray, his critics say.
He reacted to an initial statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, apparently in response to anger in Egypt over an internet video that makes fun of Islam and the prophet Muhammad. Critics believe the official statement blamed the filmmakers, not the attackers.
"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," the statement said.
Romney's initial comments were tough.
"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. "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Later, amid a new round of anti-American demonstrations in Egypt and Libya, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack. This escalated the crisis and prompted Democrats to accuse Romney of being rash and not rallying around the commander in chief.
In an interview with CBS News Wednesday, Obama said, "Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. You have to make sure that statements you make are backed up by facts and that you have to think through the ramifications before you make them."