JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Sept. 12 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday Mitt Romney's reaction to attacks on State Department posts in Africa shows "a tendency to shoot first and aim later."
Romney has drawn criticism from both parties for his comments after protesters attacked U.S. diplomatic facilities in Egypt and Libya, the attack in Libya resulting in the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The attacks were part of a protest of a U.S.-made film that depicts the Prophet Muhammad in a harshly negative light. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement Tuesday condemning the film and what it called "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
The statement did not condemn the attacks on the embassy and the White House later said the statement issued from Cairo was not authorized by the administration. Several media outlets reported the Cairo statement critical of the movie was issued before the protests.
"The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government," an administration official told Politico.
Initially, Romney said in a statement Tuesday he was "outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Romney said the Cairo embassy issued the statement after the compound was breached.
"I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," he said. "That instead, when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. An apology for America's values is never the right course."
Speaking at a campaign event in Jacksonville, Fla., Romney said the United States will "defend also our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion."
In an interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes," the president declined to say Romney's criticism was "irresponsible," saying he would "let the American people decided that."
"There's a broader lesson to be learned here," Obama said. "Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I've (learned) is you can't do that. That, uh, you know, it's important to make sure that the statements are backed up by the facts and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them."
Republican congressional leaders and foreign policy figures Wednesday condemned the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi but generally did not join Romney in criticizing the administration, Politico reported.
Romney's running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, appearing at a town hall meeting, said the violence was "outrageous" and said it was a reminder "the world needs American leadership and the best guarantee of peace is American strength."
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement praising Stevens as "a wonderful officer and a terrific diplomat who was dedicated to the cause of freedom."
Citing Republicans it described as "knowledgeable," Politico said they consider Romney's attack on Obama to be a result of sincere outrage. However, other GOP sources questioned Romney's timing and execution.
"He was right about the things he said. Maybe the timing wasn't great," a senior House Republican told Politico.
Romney said Wednesday the administration was "wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values."
That the White House distanced itself from the statement "reflects the mixed signals they're sending to the world."
Peggy Noonan, a conservative opinion writer for The Wall Street Journal, said on Fox News Romney has not "been doing himself any favors, say in the past few hours, perhaps since last night." However, William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said Romney should "reject the counsel of the mainstream media, which is to keep quiet and give Obama a pass," Politico reported.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., issued a statement saying the attacks in Africa constitute "one of those moments when Americans must unite as Americans. It is exactly the wrong time to throw political punches."
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both condemned the violence in Benghazi, with the president vowing Wednesday "justice would be done."
"Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers of our people," Obama said in a statement Wednesday.
The Obama campaign responded, charging Romney was trying to politicize the tragedy.
"We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday flags at the U.S. Capitol would be flown at half-staff.
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