Mitt Romney has been surprisingly reticent about attacking President Obama’s handling of the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, but on Monday, his campaign signaled he will begin to take a harder line on Mr. Obama’s foreign policy overall heading into Wednesday’s first debate.
The movement comes even as Mr. Romney is facing criticism from fellow Republicans, and overseeing an internal debate within his own campaign, over how hard he should push on the Libya assault itself — which left The U.S. ambassador and three others dead, and which Mr. Obama’s team belatedly acknowledged was likely an organized terrorist attack.
His campaign also said he plans to deliver a major foreign-policy speech in the next few weeks, giving a hint at what is to come by arguing in the Journal editorial that the United States seems to be standing by watching events in the Middle East unfold, instead of playing a role in shaping them.
“We’re not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies,” Mr. Romney wrote. “And that’s dangerous.”
But he shied away from the kinds of specific questions Republicans in Congress have been posing about lack of security at U.S. diplomatic posts and whether the administration had intelligence warnings ahead of the Libya attack.
After plunging into the issue soon after the first attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by making a statement sharply critical of Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney has been far more cautious on the topic in recent days, going after Mr. Obama during some campaign stops, while avoiding the mention of Libya completely in others.
Some foreign-policy experts on the right say it’s high time for Mr. Romney to go further, particularly with the first of three presidential debates set for Wednesday night.
“I think the general inclination of the campaign is to talk about the economy, which is fine, but this demands a response,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign policy at the American Enterprise Institute. “When [CNN anchor] Anderson Cooper is hitting the administration harder [on Libya] than the Republican candidate, then that seems a little odd.”
In a two-part open letter to Mr. Romney posted on her blog, Ms. Pletka skewered the GOP candidate over the Journal piece, which she said was “way too light on substance and vision.”
“Americans want to elect a man with more than simply the vision to note that his opponent stinks,” she said. “What’s yours?”
Michael O’Hanlon, an expert on Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East at the Brookings Institution, argued that Mr. Romney has gone as far as he can so far in criticizing Mr. Obama on Libya without looking unseemly, but that could change.
“It is possible, however, that he will intensify his criticism in the coming weeks as the situation stabilizes and available information increases,” he wrote in an email to The Washington Times.
Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said Mr. Romney has laid out clear disagreements with the president on the right response to the recent terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic posts in the region.
“He has also said that many questions remain about security at our diplomatic posts and what the White House knew in terms of who was responsible for the attacks and whether our response was strong enough,” Mr. Madden said.