A top foreign policy aide to Mitt Romney suggested Thursday that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens would never have happened if Romney were president. There wouldn’t even be anti-American protests in the Middle East if Romney were in charge, the aide said.
“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Romney adviser Richard Williamson told the Washington Post. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”
He blamed the attack that killed Stevens on Obama’s handling of the region, arguing that the Muslim world would have held the hypothetical Romney administration of 2008-2012 in much greater esteem, which would have prevented violent protests over an anti-Muslim film like the one that led to Stevens’s death.
“In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations — the respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and we can’t even protect sovereign American property,” he said.
Williamson served as an official under President George W. Bush. Numerous deadly attacks on diplomatic compounds in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Syria took place during the Bush administration. When countries around the world were engulfed in protests over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, the Bush administration condemned the material as “unacceptable” even as it repeated the United States’s dedication to free speech.
The United Nations, where Williamson served as a diplomat, suffered a massive attack in 2003 when a truck bomb in Iraq killed 22 people including the U.N.’s top envoy to the country at the organization’s headquarters. The international body withdrew nearly its entire staff from the country for several years.
Williamson also pounced on an Obama misstep this week in which the president said that Egypt was not an “ally,” going against the technical legal designation. Williamson called it “amateur hour.”
Romney appeared to be scaling back his own attacks on Obama over Libya on Thursday, declining to directly address Obama’s claim that Romney has a tendency to “shoot first and aim later.” The Republican nominee inaccurately accused the White House on Tuesday of expressing sympathy for the militants in Libya and Egypt as its “first response” to the attacks, though the statement Romney was referring to was released before the attacks.
The Obama campaign slammed Williamson’s comments Thursday: “It is astonishing that the Romney campaign continues to shamelessly politicize a sensitive international situation,” Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said. “The fact is that any president of either party is going to be confronted by crises while in office, and Gov. Romney continues to demonstrate that he is not at all prepared to manage them.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.