Recent events hit at Obama's foreign policy confidence; poll shows drop in approval

Romney reaction to world events also in spotlight

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19 2012 3:29 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaks during a Transfer of Remains Ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya.

Carolyn Kaster, File, Associated Press

For a presidential election that many expected to focus on the economy, September introduced a number of foreign policy issues into the race, ranging from discord with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accusations of politicizing tragedy, following the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya.

As Edward Morrissey wrote at The Week, "Welcome to the campaign, foreign policy."

Democrats started the month on a foreign policy high, emphasizing it throughout the Democratic National Convention and pointing to polls that showed them even with Republicans on terrorism and ahead on foreign policy.

"For the first time in a very long time, a Democrat has a clear advantage on national security issues," Michele Flournoy, a national security campaign adviser and former Defense Department official told Buzzfeed in an article published Sept. 11. "This is a real, significant shift in our political system."

By the end of day, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had been stormed, the Benghazi consulate in Libya had been attacked, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three State Department personnel had been killed and protests began spreading across the Middle East.

Also on that day, a conflict with Israel emerged when The Hill reported that President Obama wouldn't meet with Netanyahu while the prime minister was visiting the United Nations. The White House said the meeting couldn't happen because the two leaders were not in New York on the same day. The Israeli government accused the White House of lying, saying they offered to meet in Washington, while the White House said no such request had been made or rejected.

The Telegraph reported on Sept. 12 that the two men spoke for an hour on the phone, and agreed to continue "close consultations going forward" in regard to Iran's nuclear program.

Both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney got caught up in foreign policy as protests erupted across the Middle East, purportedly over a 13-minute YouTube clip critics decried as ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The protests began Sept. 11 and are still ongoing.

In a convoluted sequence of events, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt released a statement prior to the first protest, saying, "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others." The statement was followed by tweets that shared a similar message. Romney later released a statement criticizing the Obama administration for first sympathizing with those attacking the embassy before condemning the attack.

The administration disavowed the embassy's statement, saying it had not been approved and did not reflect the views of the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, Obama campaign manager Ben LaBolt released a statement saying, "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."

Much of the focus over the coming days centered on Romney's reaction to the attacks in Egypt and Libya. At the time, some defended Romney, while others criticized Obama.

"Tuesday's assaults on the U.S. Embassies in Benghazi and Cairo have injected foreign policy into the president campaign, but suddenly the parsons of the press corps are offended by the debate. They're upset that Mitt Romney had the gall to criticize the State Department for a statement that the White House itself disavowed," a Wall Street Journal article stated. "His political faux pas was to offend a pundit class that wants to cede the foreign policy debate to Mr. Obama without thinking seriously about the trouble for America that is building in the world."

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