Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Middle East Violence Presents Foreign Policy Challenges for Both Obama, Romney

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Middle East Violence Presents Foreign Policy Challenges for Both Obama, Romney

Article excerpt

Mideast violence disrupts U.S. campaign trail

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WASHINGTON - A sudden eruption of anti-American turmoil in the Middle East poses challenges for both U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney, with both men facing tough questions about their foreign policy know-how less than 60 days before the Nov. 6 vote.

Romney was still on the hot seat Thursday for his assertion that the Obama administration sympathized with the forces storming Middle East U.S. embassies this week, while the president was facing even tougher, more substantive questions.

Does the United States have an intelligence gap in Libya that resulted in the slaying of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens? Why was security seemingly so lax at U.S. diplomatic buildings in Libya and Egypt?

Was it a mistake for the U.S. to nudge Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a longtime American ally, out of power? Why is the U.S. still regarded so poorly in the Muslim world after supporting pro-democracy rebels during the Arab Spring?

At a campaign stop in Colorado, Obama vowed again to catch those responsible for the deaths of Stevens and three other American diplomats, but didn't delve into the bigger issues at hand.

"We are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice," Obama said. "No act of terror will go unpunished.... Our task, as the most powerful nation on Earth, is to defend, protect and advance those values at home and around the world."

Half a continent away at his own campaign stop in Virginia, Romney was heckled by someone in the crowd as he attempted to soften his blistering stance of a day earlier by focusing on the loss of Stevens and three other American diplomats.

"I know that we've had heavy hearts across America today, and I want you to know things are going to get a lot better," he told a rally before a heckler starting shouting: "Why are you politicizing Libya?"

The man was shouted down by Romney supporters and escorted from the event.

Romney's gentler tone was considered a signal that the presidential hopeful has acknowledged the barrage of criticism levelled at him not just from Democrats but from those in his own party. His anti-Obama remarks as the drama was still unfolding overseas were roundly maligned as unpresidential and ham-fisted.

He didn't completely steer clear of barbs on Thursday, but they were of a subtler variety.

"As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we're at the mercy of events, instead of shaping events, and a strong America is essential to shape events. And a strong America, by the way, depends on a strong military," he said.

"We have to have a military second to none and that's so strong no one would ever think of testing it."

To that end, Romney vowed to restore "our military commitment and keep America the strongest military in the world."

While Romney used broad brushstrokes in Virginia, other Republicans zeroed in on Obama.

Sen. John McCain, the party's presidential nominee in 2008, made the media rounds, accusing Obama of having a "feckless foreign policy" in the Middle East.

He was particularly critical of Obama's stances on Iran, Iraq and Syria. The Arizona lawmaker has long urged the White House to do more to help rebels fighting the Assad dictatorship in Syria.

"What this is all about is American weakness and the president's inability to lead," McCain, a so-called party war hawk rumoured to be unhappy about Romney's silence on Afghanistan, told NBC's "Today" show.

"Iraq is dissolving. Our relations with Israel are at a tension point. I'd like to see the president of the U. …

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