Republican exposes his flank over foreign policy

By Anne Penketh

Mitt Romney exposed his foreign policy weakness as he stuck to an indefensible script to attack the Obama Administration following the killing in Libya of the US ambassador and three other embassy staff in Benghazi.

Was this the day that Romney lost his bid for the presidency in a tight race against President Barack Obama?

It was certainly the day the Republican presidential nominee could have showed his White House mettle, yet his appearance at a hastily scheduled news conference demonstrated once again his political tin ear.

The former Massachusetts Governor came across as petty and petulant, and he stumbled badly by repeating harsh accusations of appeasement contained in a statement issued before the news of the Libya ambassador's death stunned the country.

Romney's original statement, responding to Islamists who attacked the US embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi, said it was "disgraceful" that the Obama Administration's first response was "to sympathise with those who waged the attacks". The statement reflected the Romney campaign narrative that Obama has made apologising to Muslims (and neglecting Israel) a hallmark of his presidency.

It referred to a message from the US embassy in Cairo which was actually released before the protests broke out in reaction to an anti-Islamic film made in California. The embassy said it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions".

At the news conference, Romney said the embassy represented the administration in sending "mixed messages" to the world.

He attempted to score points against the "hit and miss" foreign policy of the President, who he said lacked "clarity of purpose" in the Middle East.

But by the end of the day, it was Romney who was battered, accused of political opportunism by his detractors and even failing to secure support from within his own camp. A Washington Post editorial said Romney's rhetoric "is a discredit to his campaign."

As the US diplomatic community mourned the loss of a valued colleague, President Obama promised to bring the killers to justice, saying "we reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others" but that "there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a moving speech in which she recalled appointing the Benghazi envoy, Chris Stevens.

Of all the statements issued, there was only one not ready for prime time, and that was from Mitt Romney.

- NZ Herald

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