Remarks on the Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and an Exchange with Reporters in Jacksonville, Florida
Americans woke up this morning with — with tragic news and felt heavy hearts as they considered that individuals who have served in our diplomatic corps were brutally murdered across the world.
This attack on American individuals and embassies is outrageous. It's disgusting. It — it breaks the hearts of all of us who think of these people who have served during their lives the cause of freedom and justice and honor. We mourn their loss and join together in prayer that the spirit of the Almighty might comfort the families of those who have been so brutally slain.
Four diplomats lost their life, including the U.S. ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, in the attack on our embassy at Benghazi, Libya. And of course, with these words, I extend my condolences to the grieving loved ones who have left behind as a result of these who have lost their lives in the service of our nation. And I know that the people across America are grateful for their service, and we mourn their sacrifice.
America will not tolerate attacks against our citizens and against our embassies. We'll defend, also, our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion. We have confidence in our cause in America. We respect our Constitution. We stand for the principles our Constitution protects. We encourage other nations to understand and respect the principles of our Constitution, because we recognize that these principles are the ultimate source of freedom for individuals around the world.
I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values. The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn't cleared by Washington, and that reflects the mixed signals they're sending to the world.
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. American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests.
Over the last several years we stood witness to an Arab Spring that presents an opportunity for a more peaceful and prosperous region but also poses the potential for peril if the voices — forces of extremism and violence are allowed to control the course of events. We must strive to ensure that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab winter.
With that, I'm happy to take any questions you may have.
Q: The statement you refer to was very —[inaudible]— last night —[inaudible]— given what we know now?
MR. ROMNEY: I — the embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached. Protesters were inside the grounds. They reiterated that statement after the breach. I think it's a terrible course to — for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. And apology for America's values is never the right course.
Q: Governor Romney, do you think, though, coming so soon after the events really had unfolded overnight, it was appropriate to be weighing in on this as this crisis is unfolding in real time?
MR. ROMNEY: The White House also issued a statement saying it tried to distance itself from those comments and said they were not reflecting of their views. I had the exact same reaction. These views were inappropriate, they were the wrong course to take. When our embassy is — has been breached by protesters, the first response should not be to say, yes, we stand by our comments that suggest that there's something wrong with the right of free speech.
Q: So what did the White House do wrong then, Governor Romney, if they — if they put out a statement saying —
MR. ROMNEY: It's their administration — their administration spoke. 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. They clearly — they clearly sent mixed messages to the world. And — and the statement that came from the administration — and the embassy is the administration — the statement that came from the administration was a — was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a — a — a severe miscalculation.
Q: Governor, some —
Q: Talk about mixed signals —[inaudible]— itself a mixed signal when you criticize the administration at a time —[inaudible]?
MR. ROMNEY: We're — we have a campaign for presidency of the United States and are speaking about the different courses we would each take with regards to the challenges that the world faces. The president and I, for instance, have differences of opinion with regards to Israel and our policies there, with regards to Iran, with regards to Afghanistan, with regards to Syria. We have many places of distinction and differences.
We joined together in the condemnation of the attacks on American embassies and the loss of American life and joined in the sympathy for these people. But it's also important for me — just as it was for the White House last night, by the way — to say that the statements were inappropriate and, in my view, a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.
Q: Governor, some people are saying you jumped the gun a little in putting that statement out last night and that you should have waited until more details were available. Do you regret having that statement come out so early, before we learned about all the things that were happening?
MR. ROMNEY: I don't think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles. We express immediately when we feel that the president and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America. Simply put, having an embassy which is — has been breached and has protesters on its grounds, having violated the sovereignty of the United States — having that embassy reiterate a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech is not the right course for an administration.
Q: Governor Romney, if you had known —
STAFF: Last question.
Q: If you had known last night that the ambassador had died — and obviously, I'm gathering you did not know —
MR. ROMNEY: Well, that came — that came later.
Q: That's right. If you had known that the ambassador had died, would you have issued —
MR. ROMNEY: I'm not going — I'm not going to take hypotheticals about what would have been known when and so forth.
We responded last night to the events that happened in Egypt.
Q: Governor, what sort of —
Q: Governor Romney, your — one of your professed reasons for running is your economic know-how and your private sector experience. But now that foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East —[off mic]— the presidential campaign, can you talk about why, specifically, you think you're better qualified than President Obama —[off mic]?
MR. ROMNEY: I think President Obama has demonstrated a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy. My foreign policy has three fundamental branches: first, confidence in our cause, a recognition that the principles America was based upon are not something we shrink from or apologize for, that we stand for those principles; the second is clarity in our purpose, which is that when we have a foreign policy objective, we describe it honestly and clearly to the American people, to Congress and to the people of the world; and number three is resolve in our might, that in those rare circumstances, those rare circumstances where we decide it's essential for us to apply military might, that we do so with overwhelming force, that we do so in the clarity of a mission, understanding the nature of the U.S. interest involved, understanding when the mission would be complete, what will be left when it is — what will be left behind us when that mission has been — has been terminated.
These elements, I believe, are essential to our foreign policy, and I haven't seen them from the president. As I watched — as I've watched over the past three and a half years, the president has had some successes. He's had some failures. It's a hit-or-miss approach, but it has not been based upon sound foreign policy.
Q: Governor Romney, how, specifically — how, specifically, Governor Romney, would President Romney have handled this situation differently than President Obama did? Before midnight, when all the facts were known. How would you have handled it differently than the president did?
MR. ROMNEY: I spoke out when the key fact that I referred to was known, which was that the Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles. That was a mistake. And I believe that when a mistake is made of that significance, you speak out.
Mitt Romney, Remarks on the Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and an Exchange with Reporters in Jacksonville, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/302373