Foreign policy has long simmered on a back burner while the ailing economy has dominated the U.S. presidential race. But it has now burst to the forefront.
Both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney weighed in Wednesday on attacks the day before that overran the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. Both men denounced the violence, but Romney, campaigning in Florida, included a broadside against Obama, accusing him of demonstrating "a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy" and suggesting that the president's administration had issued a statement "akin to an apology" as the Cairo assault occurred.
It was unusually harsh criticism in the middle of a foreign crisis, going further than statements by House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the attacks.
Boehner, ordering flags to be flown at half-staff on congressional buildings, called the Libya deaths "a jolting reminder that freedom remains under siege around the globe" a day after the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said "we are shocked" that Romney "would choose to launch a political attack" at such a sensitive time.
Obama didn't address Romney's comments in a brief Rose Garden appearance before reporters, instead offering condolences to family and friends of the deceased and vowing, "Justice will be done."
Earlier, Obama's policies in the region also came under fire from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He criticized the administration for refusing to more clearly spell out what would provoke a U.S.-led military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
"The world tells Israel, 'Wait. There's still time.' And I say: 'Wait for what? Wait until when?'" said Netanyahu, a longtime friend of Romney's. Obama was campaigning later in Nevada, Vice President Joe Biden in Ohio and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan also in Ohio
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