The White House is hitting back hard against Republican suggestions that President Obama was referring to the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya as “bumps in the road” in the country’s Middle East policy.
The president’s spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said Mr. Obama was talking about Middle East turmoil in general when he made the comments in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired over the weekend. He labeled Republican claims that the president was minimizing the deaths “both desperate and offensive.”
Referring to the “remarkable transformations that are occurring around the region,” Mr. Carney said the “bumps” comment was simply Mr. Obama’s acknowledgement of “the huge obstacles to the kind of [democratic] change that people are demanding.”
Any attempt to characterize the president’s remarks as referring to the deaths of Americans in Libya is a “desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases” and “profoundly offensive.”
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Steve Kroft asked whether recent events in the Middle East had given Mr. Obama any pause in his support for governments that have come to power following the uprisings in the spring of 2011.
“Well, I’d said even at the time that this is going to be a rocky path,” Mr. Obama replied, and that “the questions presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change. I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy.”
Later during the interview he acknowledged that he was “pretty certain and continue to be … pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam.”
The Republican National Committee last night sent out emails criticizing Mr. Obama for claiming the violent protests in the Middle East were “nothing more than ‘bumps in the road.’” And early Monday morning Mitt Romney’s campaign sent out another release arguing the Obama administration had “doubled down” on the argument when a senior official after the president’s interview told ABC News that recent events in the Middle East amounted to a “rocky path.”
Over the two weeks, protests, with some turning aggressively violent, have broken out at U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other cities in the region in response at least in part to reports of an American-made anti-Islam video.
During the attack in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed when heavily armed militia stormed the U.S. embassy on the anniversary of 9/11, leading to claims that the attack was premeditated.
Mr. Obama traveled to New York Monday afternoon to attend the annual UN General Assembly annual meeting and is scheduled to address the gathering of international leaders Tuesday.
This year’s meeting is taking place at a particularly tumultuous time in the world, after the bloody assaults at multiple U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East and the deaths of three Americans, and amid heightened concern about Iran’s nuclear development and rising bloodshed in Syria.