Mitt Romney is once again going after President Obama’s handling of the deadly attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, this time accusing him of minimizing his death’s importance.
In two separate interviews Monday, Romney took aim at Obama’s remark in a interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday that “there are going to be bumps in the road” as the US builds a relationship with new governments emerging from the Arab Spring. The Republican nominee said Obama triviliazed events overseas. “I can’t imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road,” Romney said in an interview with ABC News Monday.
This time, Romney is trying to turn the tables on the president. Romney has a history of rebutting criticism from Obama by attacking the president in similar terms. In this case, Romney is arguing that Obama is acting insensitively by dismissing the scale of the problem.
“[Obama’s] indication that developments in the Middle East represent ‘bumps in the road’ is a very different view than I have,” Romney told ABC News. “The president — I can’t imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road, when you look at the entire context: the assassination, the Muslim Brotherhood president being elected in Egypt, 20,000 people killed in Syria, Iran close to becoming a nuclear nation. These are far from being bumps in the road.”
Romney launched into the same attack at the beginning of an interview with NBC on Monday, doubling down on his interpretation of Obama’s comments as a general dismissal of recent events in the region. “When the president was speaking about bumps in the road he was talking about the developments in the Middle East and that includes an assassination, it includes a Muslim Brotherhood individual becoming president of Egypt, it includes Syria being in tumult, it includes Iran being on the cusp of having nuclear capability, it includes Pakistan being in commotion,” Romney said. “Considering those events, either one of them or all of them collectively, as bumps in the road shows a person who has a very different perspective about world affairs and the perspective I have.”
The White House pushed back Monday, accusing Romney of playing politics again. “[T]here is a certain rather desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases here to find political advantage, and in this case that’s profoundly offensive,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters in his daily briefing.
The Obama campaign responded similarly. “Today, we saw what Mitt Romney meant when he told a closed door group of high-dollar donors that he would ‘take advantage of the opportunity’ to politicize an international crisis to help his campaign,” campaign spokesperson Lis Smith said in a statement. “He’s purposely misinterpreting the President’s words and making reckless statements about the death of four Americans in Libya, apparently for the sole purpose of his own political gain. Using this incident to launch political attacks should be beneath someone seeking to be our nation’s Commander-in-Chief.”
Obama’s “bumps in the road” comment on “60 Minutes” came in response to a question about whether recent events in the Middle East have caused him to reconsider the United States’ supportive relationships with governments that were formed as a result of the Arab Spring.
“I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have — have to be able to participate in their own governance,” Obama said in the interview. “But I — I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty — pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam.”
Obama continued: “The one part of society that hasn’t been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, you know, can — can be tapped into by demagogues. There will probably be some times where we bump up against some of these countries and have strong disagreements but I do think that over the long term we are more likely to get a Middle East and North Africa that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more aligned with — with our interests.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.