- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2012

Seeking to deflect criticism of President Obama’s Middle East policy as anti-U.S. tensions smolder in the Arab world, the Obama campaign on Monday accused Republican rival Mitt Romney and his advisers of being amateurs who aren’t prepared to tackle such an international crisis.

Mr. Obama’s approach to the Muslim world, which encourages pro-democracy movements in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, is being assailed as ineffective after a week in which four Americans were killed by a Muslim mob at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, protests erupted at U.S. diplomatic posts in about 20 Muslim countries, several U.S. servicemen were killed in another wave of “insider” attacks in Afghanistan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his urgent calls for the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Iran’s nuclearization program.

Given the waves of negative headlines from the Middle East, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki tried to turn the crisis into a discussion of Mr. Romney’s alleged lack of foreign-policy credentials.

“Every president — male, female, no matter who it is, Republican, Democrat — is going to face a crisis or multiple crises as the president has faced,” Ms. Psaki told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One on a campaign trip to Ohio. She said Mr. Romney’s recent foray into foreign affairs — a trip to England, Poland and Israel during the London Olympics — was “disastrous.”

She also said the Republican botched his criticism of the Obama administration after the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement last week denouncing the U.S. producer of an anti-Islam film that allegedly provoked the demonstrations for hurting the feelings of Muslims.

“Last week [Mr. Romney] … accused the president of sympathizing with the attackers and mischaracterized a statement from our embassy; and then he had an adviser the next day go out and say that if Mitt Romney had been president this wouldn’t have happened,” Ms. Psaki said. “So this does raise a question of whether his team is ready for prime time when it comes to these issues.”

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said the attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan will not alter the administration’s policy there.

“Despite these insider attacks and despite the painful losses we’ve sustained, we will not let those attacks, that intimidation, diminish our efforts to achieve and succeed in this mission,” Mr. Earnest said.

He also said the president over the weekend called the chiefs of mission at besieged diplomatic facilities throughout the Middle East, in the Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Mr. Obama “let those diplomats know that he was thinking about them, that their safety remains a top priority of his,” Mr. Earnest said. “This is something that is on his mind even as he has some responsibilities as a candidate for re-election.”

Mr. Obama last week demanded that the heads of foreign governments in Egypt and elsewhere provide better security around U.S. diplomatic posts.

Mr. Earnest said the president thinks there is still time to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its suspected nuclear weapons program. He didn’t comment on Mr. Netanyahu’s assessment that Iran will have about 90 percent of what it needs to build a bomb within six months or so.

“It’s something we’re obviously monitoring,” Mr. Earnest said.