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The death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans at a consulate in the country led to a political clash between GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama today.
While both universally condemned the rocket attack that killed Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. consulate in Libya as well as the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Egypt, Romney sought to distinguish himself from Obama by criticizing Obama's foreign policy and what he called an administration apology for American values.
"The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed. In the face of this violence, America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead," Romney told reporters at a news conference. "American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control."
Romney batted back questions that he might have erred in criticizing the initial U.S. reaction to the Egyptian embassy attack, which sought to distance the U.S. government from a film made by an Israeli-American. The film appears to have set off the attacks because it offended Muslims by depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad in a negative light.
"The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also from the words that come from his ambassadors from his administration, from his embassies, from his State Department," Romney said. "They clearly - they clearly sent mixed messages to the world and the statement that came from the administration and the embassy is the administration. The statement that came from the administration was - was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation."
Obama sought to strike a presidential posture, praising the sacrifice of the dead in a Rose Garden speech Wednesday morning and pledging to bring the responsible parties to justice.
"Often they are away from their families," Obama said, in reference to the diplomatic corps. "Sometimes they brave great danger.
"There is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None," he said.
He also promised to find the responsible parties: "Make no mistake, justice will be done."
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) rebuked any attempts to make political gain out of the deaths of Americans in Benghazi.
"This is one of those moments when Americans must unite as Americans. It is exactly the wrong time to throw political punches. It is a time to restore calm and proceed wisely," Kerry said.
Kerry, no doubt, was referring in part to Romney, though he did not mention the candidate by name.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers generally struck a somber, but resolute tone in response to the attacks on the embassy compounds in Libya and Egypt, abiding by the traditional policy of stopping politics at the water's edge in the time of crisis.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was quick to call for the lowering of flags to half-staff at the Capitol complex as a sign of respect for the American diplomats killed.
Sens. John McCain (R), Lindsey Graham (R) and Joe Lieberman (I) issued a joint statement highlighting Stevens' work during the so-called Arab Spring. They refrained from speculation about the specifics of the attack.
"What is clear, however, is that the attackers must be apprehended and punished. We appreciate that senior Libyan leaders have condemned these cowardly attacks, and we now look to the Libyan government to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice and that U.S. diplomats are protected," the Senators said. "We have confidence that our own government will provide all necessary assistance to this end."
The Senators were three of the leading advocates for U.S. support for the efforts of the Libyan people to oust former ruler Moammar Gadhafi .
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a caution to both Egypt and Libya, saying that the people of the two countries need to make sure to disavow the violence.
"The Libyan and Egyptian people should understand that the U.S. shares their commitment to building more hopeful and prosperous nations," Rubio said in a statement. "However, if left unchecked, violent attacks like these against our embassies and diplomats will lead Libya and Egypt down a dark path and rob them of their hopes of a more prosperous and democratic future."
One notable exception to the comity on Capitol Hill came in a statement issued by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). He was quick to criticize Obama's foreign policy.
"Sadly, America has suffered as a result of President Obama's failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology. The world must know beyond doubt that America will not allow these types of attacks on our people," Inhofe said. "Obama's failed leadership is in direct contrast with ... Ambassador Stevens brave leadership and effort to protect Americans at the consulate."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used his opening floor speech Wednesday to highlight the role of Foreign Service officers in promoting U.S. interests overseas.
"It is too often forgotten that American diplomats risk their lives on a daily basis. Our diplomatic corps is filled with admirable and dedicated public servants," Reid said. "And the four Americans who lost their lives yesterday exemplified the courage and sacrifice that happens every day at diplomatic posts across the globe."
Reid noted that Stevens was confirmed to the post in Libya by the Senate just months ago. Reid also said he supported efforts by the Obama administration to enhance diplomatic security.