Former Amb. R. Nicholas Burns, who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, said he was “disappointed” in Mitt Romney’s reaction to the violence in Egypt and Libya, which resulted in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three embassy staffers.
“I was, frankly, very disappointed and dismayed to see Gov. Romney inject politics into this very difficult situation where our embassies are under attack, where there’s been a big misunderstanding in the Middle East, apparently, about an American film, where we’re trying to preserve the lives of our diplomats,” Burns said on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports this afternoon. “This is no time for politics.”
Burns added: “I just think that Gov. Romney has, in a very unwise way, injected himself into a situation where he clearly doesn’t have all the facts.”
Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, avoided Romney’s same level of criticism on the show, appearing to call for a pause in the political rhetoric for a few days.
“I do think there’s room for discussion after we get through these very troubling few days about maybe policies overall and those kinds of discussions and that’s probably a fair debate to have in this upcoming election,” Rogers said. “What we should be focused on now is that we lose a United States ambassador. And what’s key about this is we ask these folks to serve in very dangerous places. They are civilians. They are to represent the United States and just fundamentally try to avoid conflict. So the fact that these guys were deliberately targeted – they knew the ambassador wouldn’t be armed – tells us we’ve got some troubles we’re going to have to deal with, especially in Libya. This was a well-armed, well-coordinated event. It had both indirect and direct fire, and it had military maneuvers that were all part of this very organized attack. That’s concerning. That means we are going to have to make sure, working with the Libyans hopefully, that these folks are brought to justice very swiftly. We cannot allow this to stand for the United States.”
Rogers added, “I’m not exactly sure what Gov. Romney was specifically talking about. I think probably what you saw there was the frustration with a foreign policy that probably is a little out of kilter of where the governor would be when it comes to the Middle East. I think that’s probably what you’re seeing there.”
Romney foreign-policy adviser, former Amb. Richard S. Williamson, stood up for Romney.
"When you don't have the facts, you argue process,” Williamson said of Romney’s critics. In fact, he added that the “substance of what the governor said last night was true then and is true now."
Williamson also dismissed Burns’ criticism, deriding him as someone who first served under former President Jimmy Carter. But Burns, who rose to the third-ranking official in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, actually began his foreign-service career during the Reagan administration. Burns has also served George H.W. Bush and on Bill Clinton’s national-security council.
Williamson said he believes the choice in this election is between someone who "apologizes" for American values and one who doesn't.
Here was the Egyptian embassy's statement, hours before its compound was breached:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Here was Romney's response to that in a statement last night:
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Today, Romney did not back down, saying it's "never too early to condemn attacks." "I don’t think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles," Romney said. "We express immediately when we feel that the president and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America."
Romney also called the embassy's statement an "apology for American principles."
NBC's James Rankin contributed to this report.