By DAVID ESPO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican challenger Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama's administration on Wednesday of showing weakness in the face of tumultuous events that left four U.S. diplomats dead in the Middle East and jolted the race for the White House. Obama retorted that his rival "seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later."
Even some Republicans questioned Romney's handling of the issue, calling it hasty. Top GOP leaders in Congress pointedly declined to endorse his criticism of the president.
Said Obama: "It's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you've thought through the ramifications before you make 'em."
Obama-the-political-candidate's unusually personal criticism, which came in an interview with CBS, stood in contrast to his appearance outside the White House earlier in the day. Then, he somberly mourned the deaths and announced the deployment of additional Marines at diplomatic posts overseas in his capacity as commander in chief.
"And make no mistake. Justice will be done" he declared, referring to those responsible for the murders of Chris Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three others.
The four diplomats were killed on Tuesday as protesters overran and burned the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. In a separate incident, the American Embassy in Cairo was breached by protesters, and the nation's flag was ripped down, although no deaths were reported there.
The political fallout came as U.S. officials investigated whether the attack in Libya was a terrorist strike planned to mark the 11th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Initial reports were that both the Libya and Egypt events had been motivated by anger over an amateur film made in the United States that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Either way, some Republicans joined Democrats in questioning Romney's decision to inject himself into the situation thousands of miles away with his critical statement Tuesday night.
He followed up with morning remarks in which he blasted the initial statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as disgraceful and "akin to apology."
He added, "It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values."
Appearing in Jacksonville, Fla., Romney quickly broadened his remarks to emphasize other disagreements he has with Obama on national security issues, citing "differences of opinion with regards to Israel and our policies there; with regards to Iran, with regards to Afghanistan, with regards to Syria."
Obama referred to the violent developments but quickly moved on to domestic matters while speaking at a rally Wednesday night in Las Vegas. After declaring that those who died had risked their lives "to help one of the world's youngest democracies get on its feet," the president said he had a message for the rest of the world: "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 moved on to a standard campaign speech, exhorting the crowd of about 8,000 people at the Cashman Center convention hall to elect him to a second term. Many struggled to understand him because of bad acoustics.
The events in Cairo and Libya unfolded with less than eight weeks remaining in the race for the White House, a campaign that has been close for months and appears likely to be settled in fewer than 10 battleground states.
The state of the economy has been the top issue by far from the beginning of the race, and recent surveys suggest Romney holds a narrowing advantage over the president when it comes to plans for reducing the nation's unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.
The situation has long been different on foreign policy. Asked in a Washington Post-ABC News poll last week which candidate was better suited to handle international affairs, registered voters picked Obama by a margin of 51 percent to 38 percent.
The Republican challenger has worked to whittle away at that deficit, and he made a heavily publicized overseas trip early this summer as part of his effort. He drew mixed reviews at best— reproached by British officials, for example, when he appeared to question preparations for the Olympic Games in London.