Foreign Policy Hands Voice Disbelief At Romney Cairo Statement

Pic of the Moment

Mitt Romney’s attack on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy appeared to be totally political with very little mention of the lives lost at the American Embassy in Libya.

Buzz Feed

Mitt Romney’s sharply-worded attack on President Obama over a pair of deadly riots in Muslim countries last night has backfired badly among foreign policy hands of both parties, who cast it as hasty and off-key, released before the facts were clear at what has become a moment of tragedy.

Romney keyed his statement to the American Embassy in Cairo’s condemnation of an anti-Muslim video that served as the trigger for the latest in a series of regional riots over obscure perceived slights to the faith. But his statement — initially embargoed to avoid release on September 11, then released yesterday evening anyway — came just before news that the American Ambassador to Libya had been killed and broke with a tradition of unity around national tragedies, and of avoiding hasty statements on foreign policy. It was the second time Romney has been burned by an early statement on a complex crisis: Romney denounced the Obama Administration’s handling of a Chinese dissident’s escape just as the Administration negotiated behind the scenes for his departure from the country.

“They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up,” said a very senior Republican foreign policy hand, who called the statement an “utter disaster” and a “Lehman moment” — a parallel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 financial crisis, failed to come across as a steady leader.

He and other members of both parties cited the Romney campaign’s recent dismissals of foreign policy’s relevance. One adviser dismissed the subject to BuzzFeed as a “shiny object,” while another told Politico that the subject was the “president’s turf,” drawing a rebuke from Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.

“I guess we see now that it is because they’re incompetent at talking effectively about foreign policy,” said the Republican. “This is just unbelievable — when they decide to play on it they completely bungle it.”

Romney has not backed off the response — “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values,” he said Wednesday — but his campaign faces a near consensus in Republican foreign policy circles that, whatever the sentiment, Romney faltered badly.

“It’s deeply unfortunate when the circumstance of the statement becomes the story,” said Rick Perry’s former foreign policy adviser, Victoria Coates, who is now a adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and who suggested that Romney should simply have “gone earlier rather than save it for midnight” to avoid appearing to play politics on September 11. “It’s unfortunate that it’s playing out this way, and hopefullly they can get back on message, because their point is sound,” she said.

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