Gov. Mitt Romney is stepping up his campaign-trail criticism of President Barack Obama‘s outreach to Arab Islamist groups, even as polling concerns prompted the president to truncate his high-profile Sept. 23 visit to the United Nations General Assembly.
Obama’s claim that recent riots and unrest in the Middle East “represent bumps in the road is a very different view than I have,” Romney in a Sept. 24 ABC interview.
On Sept. 23 Obama claimed the Middle East riots and attacks, and the rise of Islamist groups, are “bumps in the road” toward a hoped-for Arab democracy that Obama promised in 2009 while announcing his much-touted “new beginning” policy.
The “bumps” gaffe was accompanied by Obama’s claims that Israel is only “one of our closest allies” and that he would ignore “noise” from the Middle East during the election race.
The “noise” remark was widely understood to refer to Israel’s requests for stronger action against Iran’s nuclear development program.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney walked Obama’s comments back the following day.
“You’ve heard the president say numerous times that Israel is our closest ally in the region,” Carney claimed. “We have an unshakeable bond with Israel.”
Obama’s “bump in the road” comment, he insisted, was intended to show that “progress will not always come in a straight line, that there will be challenges in the region and in individual countries as they make that transition from decades of autocracy and tyranny to what we all hope will be governments that are more responsive.”
Republican officials didn’t pull their punches Sept. 24.
“When you look at the entire context, the assassination [of the U.S. ambassador to Libya], the Muslim brotherhood president being elected in Egypt, 20,000 people killed in Syria, Iran close to becoming a nuclear nation … are far from being ‘bumps in the road,’” Romney declared.
“Our president should stand up and indicate this is not the direction we’d not like to see the Middle East head,” Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor said.
Obama’s complaint about “noise” from Israel “unfortunately confirm suspicions” that the president isn’t a stronger support of Israel, Cantor added during a press call arranged by the Romney campaign.
Romney’s criticism followed almost 10 days of silence after Democrats and establishment media outlets ripped Romney for saying the Obama administration had shown “sympathy” for claims made Sept. 11 by rioters at the Cairo embassy.
That night, a jihadi group killed four U.S. officials in Benghazi including Ambassador Chris Stevens, prompting the White House to blame the disaster on a low-budget and obscure YouTube video, instead of on policy misjudgments about the plethora of political and armed Islamist groups in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Syria and other Arab countries.