President Barack Obama finally hit back Wednesday at Mitt Romney's blunt criticisms of his handling of the violence in Egypt and crisis in Libya, accusing the Republican standard-bearer of having a "shoot first and aim later" approach to foreign policy.
At first, Obama, while delivering remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday morning, had stayed above the fray. He declined to engage in the former governor of Massachusetts' inflammatory charge late Tuesday that the administration's "first response" to attacks on American diplomatic missions in Cairo and Benghazi was to "sympathize" with those who killed Americans.
By the afternoon, Obama had taken a different tone, telling "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft that "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," Obama said. "That, you know, it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you've thought through the ramifications before you make 'em."
White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, read a longer version of Obama's comments to CBS' "60 Minutes" in which the president sharply condemned Romney's criticisms as out of place in the aftermath of the violence. In Egypt, rioters had stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down its American flag. In Libya, they took the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in clashes that left four dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Romney accused Obama of apologizing for American values.
"I think most Americans—Democrats or Republicans—understand that there are times when we set politics aside, and one of those is when we've got a direct threat to American personnel who are overseas," Carney read from the full CBS version.
"If you look at how most Republicans have reacted, most elected officials, they've reacted responsibly, waiting to find out the facts before they talk, making sure that our number one priority is the safety and security of American personnel," Carney continued with the quote. "It appears that Governor Romney didn't have his facts right."
Romney's early criticism stemmed from a statement, issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo before the protests there escalated, condemning an anti-Islam film that has drawn angry denunciations in the Muslim world. While some linked rage at the movie to the violence in Egypt and Libya, U.S. officials say they are looking into whether the attack in Benghazi was a plot by an organized group.
Obama, read Carney, also told CBS that "the situation in Cairo was one in which an embassy that is being threatened by major protests releases a press release saying that the film that had disturbed so many Muslims around the world wasn't representative of what Americans believe about Islam in an effort to cool the situation down. It didn't come from me. It didn't come from Secretary Clinton. It came from folks on the ground who are potentially in danger.
"And my tendency is to cut those folks a little bit of slack when they're in that circumstance rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office."
In addition, read Carney, "I do have to say that more broadly, we believe in the First Amendment, it is one of the hallmarks of our Constitution that I am sworn to uphold. And so we are always going to uphold the rights for individuals to speak their minds. On the other hand, this film is not representative of who we are and our values, and I think it's important for us to communicate that."
There's "never an excuse for violence against Americans, which is why my number one priority and my initial statement focused on making sure that not only are Americans safe, but that we go after anybody, who would attack Americans," the spokesman quoted Obama as saying.
As to whether Romney's comments were irresponsible, Obama said, "I'll let the American people judge that."