FAIRFAX, Virginia (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign policy on Thursday after four Americans were killed in Libya, saying the United States seems at the mercy of world events.
Romney made a case for a stronger U.S. military at a campaign rally in Northern Virginia, an area that could play a deciding role in who wins the November 6 presidential election.
The former Massachusetts governor stopped short of repeating charges that Obama was apologizing to America’s enemies, but made clear he had not changed his mind about it after getting heat for his views from Democrats and some fellow Republicans.
“As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we’re at the mercy of events, instead of shaping events,” he said in Fairfax, a suburb of Washington.
Romney came under fire after criticizing the Obama administration’s initial response to demonstrators at U.S. diplomatic missions in Benghazi, Libya, and Cairo.
Romney on Wednesday denounced the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for criticizing an anti-Islam film that enraged protesters who scaled the embassy’s walls. The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed when assailants attacked the consulate in Benghazi during a protest against the film.
Critics say Romney was too quick to inject election-year politics into a U.S. foreign policy crisis and that he got the timeline of the embassy incident wrong.
At the Fairfax event, Romney did not repeat his line of attack but he has shown no sign of backing away.
In an ABC interview later, Romney argued the White House agreed with him that the embassy statement was inappropriate because officials had distanced themselves from it.
“What I said was exactly the same conclusion the White House reached, which was that the statement was inappropriate. That’s why they backed away from it as well,” he said.
With the Middle East remaining a source of tensions, the Romney campaign said Romney and his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, would begin receiving U.S. intelligence briefings next week.
“For the last several weeks, the Romney campaign has been in touch with the intelligence community to arrange intelligence briefings for Governor Romney and Representative Ryan, consistent with tradition. They will begin next week and, beyond that, we will have no further comment,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
As he paid homage in Fairfax to the four Americans slain in Libya, a heckler interrupted Romney.
“Why are you politicizing Libya?” the man shouted, according to audio recorded by a television pool camera.
Romney said he had wanted to pause the campaign event for a moment of silence for the victims, but “one gentleman doesn’t want to be silent, so we’re going to keep on going.”
The crowd of Romney supporters shouted down the heckler with chants of “USA” and he was escorted out. The Republican paid tribute to the four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, saying, “What a tragedy to lose such wonderful people.”
URGES STRONG MILITARY
Romney accused Obama of instigating some big cuts in the defense budget that will come into effect at year’s end unless the president can negotiate a budget deal with Congress.
The threatened cuts are part of an agreement between Obama and top congressional Republicans in August 2011 to help avert an unprecedented U.S. government debt default. Among the backers of the deal was Romney’s running mate, Ryan.
“A strong America is essential to shape events. And a strong America, by the way, depends on a strong military. We have to have a military second to none and that’s so strong no one would ever think of testing it,” he said.
Romney likely needs to win Virginia in order to defeat Obama and much depends on how Northern Virginia votes. Many residents of the area are dependent on government jobs in Washington.