Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters at his campaign headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. It’s on in Wisconson now,Sept. 12, 2012. (Photo: AP0
US Senator John McCain led a Republican assault on Barack Obama's handling of rising Middle East tensions Thursday, claiming American "weakness" was inviting aggression in a volatile region.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who hopes to oust Obama from the White House in November's election, took a risk when he criticized the president in the immediate aftermath of a deadly attack on a US mission in Libya.
Some of Romney's allies were initially reluctant to back their candidate up, fearing that it would be seen as distasteful to seek to make political capital out of the death of a US ambassador and three of his colleagues.
But the challenger pushed on with his attacks and on Thursday was soon joined by McCain, the Republican nominee who lost to Obama in 2008, and others in accusing Obama of apologizing for US values.
"What this is all about is American weakness, and the president's inability to lead," McCain told NBC News, taking viewers on a tour of Middle East trouble spots where he believes US interests are at risk.
"Iraq is dissolving, our relations with Israel are at a tension point. I'd like to see the president of the United States speak up once for the 20,000 people that are being massacred in Syria," he said.
McCain criticized a statement released by the US embassy in Cairo, one that the White House quickly distanced itself from, that was apparently aimed at placating hostile protesters furious over a crude film that mocks Islam.
"I'm saying that the statement that was made... by the US Embassy was a very weak statement and an object proof of that is they withdrew that statement and changed it later on," the bellicose former navy pilot said.
He added that while "it's always a time to set aside politics" when Americans are killed abroad, Obama's hesitation to flex American muscle invites aggression from opponents and enemies.
"There is a belief in the Middle East that the United States is weak and withdrawing and that's why you're seeing various countries and their leaders reacting, because they have to live in the neighborhood and they believe the United States is leaving," McCain said.
Senator Rob Portman and several other senior party members also attacked the embassy statement, whioch Obama's cmap insist had neither White House nor State Department approval.
"And I think for governor Romney, having seen that statement, to react as he did is the reaction that most Americans would have," he told CBS News. "The thing to do is condemn it ... and not to begin by issues an apology."