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The Globe and Mail

Can Romney survive his ‘Lehman moment’ on the U.S. embassy attack?

U.S. Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney listens to questions on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, in Jacksonville, Florida, September 12, 2012.


Has Mitt Romney just had his Lehman moment?

For many inside and outside his party, the Republican nominee's quick condemnation of the Obama administration's response to the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya was impulsive and raised questions about his temperament and judgment.

For the critics, the incident evoked John McCain's bungled reaction to the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers, almost four years ago to the day. Mr. McCain's suggestion then that the fundamentals of the economy were sound turned his "Lehman moment" into the point of no return for his presidential campaign against Barack Obama.

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Now, many are wondering whether Mr. Romney has just thrown away any chance of beating now-President Obama by coming out swinging at the administration in the midst of a foreign policy crisis.

On Wednesday, one "very senior Republican foreign policy hand" told BuzzFeed that the incident amounted to Mr. Romney's "Lehman moment."

Could the onslaught of negative media coverage doom Mr. Romney's already fitful presidential campaign? Or can he turn the moment to his political advantage?

What is clear is that Mr. Romney's stand – accusing the Obama administration of sending a "mixed message" by attempting to defuse the reaction of Muslims to an amateurish anti-Islam video – is very popular with the Republican base and neoconservatives nostalgic for the Dick Cheney school of foreign policy.

Mr. Romney condemned a Tuesday statement put out by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt the violence by criticizing the video that "hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."

The White House later stipulated that it had not approved the embassy's statement. But that did not stop Mr. Romney from continuing his charge against the entire Obama administration on Wednesday, saying the "embassy is the administration."

"An apology for America's values is never the right course," Mr. Romney said at a campaign stop in Florida.

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Mr. Obama later criticized his rival's response, accusing him of having a "tendency to shoot first and aim later."

For conservatives, however, Mr. Romney got it right by standing up for freedom of speech and sending the world an unequivocal message of where the United States comes down on such matters. Taking a tough line against the Muslim demonstrators in Egypt and Libya was first and foremost the appropriate response, they said, and something Mr. Obama should have done earlier.

"Matters of war and peace are inherently political and should always be fodder for political campaigns," National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote Thursday on the Politico website. "The signature Obama foreign policy success has been killing people – Osama bin Laden with a Special Forces raid and a bunch of other al-Qaeda terrorists with drones. Otherwise, we are worse off than when Obama took office."

The question facing Mr. Romney, however, is whether the rest of the country will see it that way? Unfortunately for him, with so much criticism coming his way, voters could grow uncomfortable at the idea of electing him Commander-in-Chief.

"I don't feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favours, say in the past few hours, perhaps since last night," Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, told Fox News on Wednesday. "Sometimes when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go."

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