Obama honours officials killed in Libya who “embraced the American ideal”
Barack Obama marked the return of the bodies of four state department officials killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, including the ambassador to Libya, by saying their deaths must cause even the most hopeful to question a fundamental American belief in leaving the world a better place.
Speaking next to the flag-draped coffins of the ambassador, Chris Stevens, and the three other victims at Andrews air force base in Maryland, the president praised each of the men in turn while again vowing to “bring to justice the ones who took them from us” and to “stand fast” against the continuing attacks on U.S. embassies as anti-American protests spread across the Middle East.
“They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal, they lived it. They embodied it. The courage, the hope and, yes, the idealism. That fundamental American belief that we can leave this world a little better than before,” he said. “I know that this awful loss, the terrible images of recent days, the pictures we’re seeing again today, have caused some to question this work. And there is no doubt that these are difficult days. In moments such as this, so much anger and violence, even the most hopeful among us must wonder.”
The president also mentioned the Libyans who took to the streets with homemade signs repudiating the killings.
Among those questioning on Friday was the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, who used the backdrop of the killings and protests to accuse Obama of a failure of leadership through weakness in confronting danger and betrayal of America’s closest ally in the region, Israel.
Romney spurned criticism that he distastefully exploited for political gain the deaths of the four Americans to press home criticism that the president is more willing to apologise to enemies than support friends.
“The American people are disturbed and reeling with the news around the world,” he said before calling on Obama to “get tougher” with the Egyptian government.
Ryan accused Obama of a “lack of moral clarity” and firmness in his foreign policy in confronting evil.
“Look across that region today, and what do we see? The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration,” he told the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington. “Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership. In the days ahead, and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose. Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome”.
Romney called on Obama to get tougher with Egypt, saying that the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo needs to ensure the security of foreign diplomats or risk losing $1.3bn in annual U.S. aid. The Republican candidate said aid should also be conditional on the state of Egyptian relations with Israel and the treatment of its Christian minority.
“I think for instance in Egypt we should make it very clear to maintain a relationship, a friendship, an alliance and financial support with the United States. Egypt needs to understand it must honour its peace treaty with Israel,” he said. “It must also protect the rights of the minorities in their nation. And finally among other things it must also protect the embassies of our nation and other nations”.
Romney also attacked Obama for declining to meet the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, when he visits the U.S., later this month. The Republican candidate called the move “an extraordinary confusing and troubling decision”.
“This is our closest ally and best friend in the Middle East,” Romney said at a New York fundraiser. “It stands between a nuclear Iran in some respects and a region that would have more stability without a nuclear Iran. And yet when the prime minister of Israel says, ‘I’m going to be in New York. Can we meet?’ And the president says, ‘No, I’m too busy,’ I can’t imagine that circumstance. I don’t know what the president is trying to send to the world in terms of a message but it does send a message”.
The White House has denied the president snubbed Netanyahu, saying it was merely a matter of logistics because they will not be in New York at the same time. Israeli officials have said Netanyahu offered to travel to Washington but was rebuffed. The White House denied it. However, the spat was seen as further evidence of the deepening divide between Washington and Jerusalem over how far to go in confronting Iran over its nuclear programme.
One of Romney’s foreign policy advisers, Richard Williamson, described Obama’s handling of the Middle East crisis as “amateur hour” and blamed it on the fact that respect of the U.S. has fallen.
“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” he told the Washington Post.
Other Republicans have accused the president of being too distracted by campaigning to focus sufficiently on the growing Middle East crisis.
“They’ve got to get out of campaign mode and get into leadership mode,” Congressman Randy Forbes, a member of the House of Representatives armed services committee, told Fox News. “And they really haven’t done that, they haven’t done it in this situation”.
The White House quickly accused Romney of exploiting a tragic situation for electoral gain.
“It is astonishing that the Romney campaign continues to shamelessly politicise a sensitive international situation,” the Obama campaign said. “The fact is that any president of either party is going to be confronted by crises while in office, and Governor Romney continues to demonstrate that he is not at all prepared to manage them”.
Image: Carry teams move flag draped transfer cases of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya, from a transport plane. Sept. 14, at Andrews Air Force Base. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)