PUEBLO, Colo. — Mitt Romney led a chorus of Republican criticism of the administration's foreign policy on Monday, accusing President Barack Obama of minimizing the recent killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya as a mere "bump in the road" rather than part of a chain of events that threatens American interests.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the accusations "desperate and offensive," an attempt by Romney and his allies to gain political advantage in the latter stages of a political campaign that seems to be trending the president's way.
Obama flew from the White House to New York, one day before he speaks to world leaders at the opening of the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. He and first lady Michele Obama also booked an appearance on television's "The View."
The back and forth on foreign policy occurred as Romney said he was shifting to a more energetic schedule of public campaign events, bidding to reverse recent erosion in battleground state polls. After days spent largely raising campaign cash — and trying to minimize the fallout from one speech to donors last spring — he pledged to make the case for "real and positive change."
While national polls make the race exceedingly close, Obama has gained ground on Romney in many recent surveys when potential voters are asked to compare the two rivals in their ability to fix the economy. Sluggish growth and national unemployment of 8.1 percent make the economy by far the dominant issue in the race, and the two men have focused much of their time and advertising budgets on highlighting their differences on taxes, spending and plans for job creation.
The same polls show Obama with a healthy lead over Romney when voters are asked which candidate is better equipped to handle foreign policy, and the president has not shied away from trumpeting his decision to order the secret mission by U.S. forces that killed terrorism mastermind Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout more than a year ago.
At the same time, Romney's advisers say voters are more inclined to question Obama's handling of foreign policy after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, earlier this month resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Not only Romney, but other Republicans, as well, challenged Obama on foreign policy on Monday.
In a conference call with reporters, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House majority leader, said, "Israel continues to find itself on the receiving end of harsh language by the president of the White House. ... There is a somewhat continued pattern of throwing Israel under the bus when Israel stands as our closest ally."
And the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued challenges to Democratic candidates in several races to "share their view" on Obama's remarks in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" over the weekend.
In the interview itself, Obama was responding when asked if recent events in the Middle East gave him pause for supporting governments that came to power following a wave of regime changes known as the Arab Spring.
He said he has long noted that events were going to be rocky, adding that the question itself "presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change."
"I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights. ... But I was pretty certain and continue to be 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. ...
"There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americans, and anti-Western sentiments and you know can be tapped into by demagogues," he added.
Romney was eager to talk about the topic, squeezing interviews with three television networks into his schedule and touching on the subject at the beginning of a rally in Pueblo, Colo.
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