Republican challenger Mitt Romney defended his criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the of the attacks on two U.S. diplomatic and doubled down on his campaign's message that the attacks are evidence that the White House's policies have failed across the region.
"I think it's a terrible course for America to apologize for our values," Romney said, referring to the original U.S. Embassy Cairo statement on the protests there, which was issued before protesters broached the embassy compound walls Tuesday. "They clearly sent mixed messages to the world. And the statement that came from the administration -- and the embassy is the administration ... was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation."
Romney called for renewed American leadership in the world, reinforcing his campaign's assertion Tuesday that the embassy attacks are related to the administration's overall approach to the Arab uprisings.
"The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed. In the face of this violence, America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead," he said. "American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests."
"Over the last several years we stood witness to an Arab Spring that presents an opportunity for a more peaceful and prosperous region but also poses the potential for peril if the voices -- forces of extremism and violence are allowed to control the course of events. We must strive to ensure that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab Winter," Romney said.
The Romney campaign's reaction to the events in Egypt and Libya stood in contrast to several statements by GOP congressional leaders Wednesday morning, most of whom avoided any direct criticism of the Obama administration or its policies.
"Yesterday we commemorated the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, and today we are reminded that brave Americans serve us every day at the risk of their own lives. We honor the Americans we lost in Libya, and we will stand united in our response," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. "Among the things we can all agree on in Washington is that attacks on the U.S. and its representatives will be met with resolve, and that America's presence and defense of our national interests across the globe will not be deterred by the acts of violent extremists."
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), issued a joint statement that echoed Romney's concerns about the path of the Arab Spring and urged international support for Libyan democracy, but emphasized that the details of Tuesday's attacks are still unknown.
"There is still much we do not know about what happened in Benghazi yesterday. What is clear, however, is that the attackers must be apprehended and punished. We appreciate that senior Libyan leaders have condemned these cowardly attacks, and we now look to the Libyan government to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice, and that U.S. diplomats are protected. We have confidence that our own government will provide all necessary assistance to this end," they said.
One senior Republican senator, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), joined with Romney today in tying the tragic events in Libya and Egypt to Obama's policies in the Middle East.
"Sadly, America has suffered as a result of President Obama's failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology. The world must know beyond doubt that America will not allow these types of attacks on our people. Obama's failed leadership is in direct contrast with Ambassador Stevens' brave leadership and effort to protect Americans at the consulate," Inhofe said in statement.
Inhofe called for congressional hearings to investigate the intelligence and security failures that proceeded the attacks.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) indirectly criticized the administration's response Tuesday in remarks ahead of a committee hearing Wednesday morning.
"Let us be clear: There is no justification for the murder of our diplomats and attacks of our embassies. We have nothing for which we should apologize," she said. We must ensure that the perpetrators of this recent round of 9/11 attacks are held accountable."
In separate statements Wednesday morning, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks, expressed aguish about the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, and promised to press for a full and swift investigation.
"We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake: We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people," Obama said.
"Since our founding the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts. Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya."
Clinton spoke in detail about Stevens's record of working on behalf of Libyans and praised the Libyan government's response to the crisis so far.
"When the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris's body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the president of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible," she said.
"Today many Americans are asking -- indeed, I asked myself -- how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be. But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya," she said.
"The friendship between our countries, born out of shared struggle, will not be another casualty of this attack. A free and stable Libya is still in America's interest and security, and we will not turn our back on that, nor will we rest until those responsible for these attacks are found and brought to justice."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.