WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama questioned Mitt Romney's tendency to "shoot first and aim later" Wednesday, using his foe's response to attacks on US diplomats to paint him as unfit for the Oval Office.
Obama ruthlessly laid into Romney's temperament as the killing of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, and the ransacking of the US embassy in Cairo consumed Washington ahead of the November 6 election.
The Republican challenger had earlier stood by his claim that the Obama administration was more interested in sympathizing with perpetrators of the attack on the Egypt embassy than defending American values.
Obama told CBS News that Romney's late night statement Tuesday on the unfolding drama in Cairo was premature and proof of his rival's propensity to lash out even when he does not have his "facts right."
"There's a broader lesson to be learned here: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later," Obama said in the interview.
"As president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that -- it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them."
Obama's riposte to Romney followed a more formal statement earlier in the day, in which he paid tribute to slain ambassador Chris Stevens, promised his killers would face justice and avoided political ramifications of his killings.
It also served as a preview of a high-stakes foreign policy debate in which Romney and Obama will duel next month, one of three encounters that could be decisive before voters decide if Obama deserves a second term.
In a press conference in Florida, Romney denied he had jumped the gun with his statement on Tuesday about the Cairo attack, saying "an apology for America's values is never the right course."
Romney was angry the US embassy in Cairo stood by a statement issued before its walls were breached in which it condemned a movie by a US director deemed insulting to Islam as an attempt to "hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
Obama's latest swipe at Romney came a week after he used the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina to portray his rival as a foreign policy neophyte who would usher in a new "era of blustering and blundering" abroad.
The president's ally, Senator John Kerry -- a possible pick for secretary of state if Obama wins a second term -- also fired off a scathing assault on Romney's credentials to serve as commander-in-chief.
"President Mitt Romney -- three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer," Kerry said, referring to Romney's wobbly visit to Europe and Israel.
"For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission -- it was a blooper reel."
Democrats also seized on Romney's failure to mention an Afghan war strategy in his speech accepting the Republican nomination at his own convention in Tampa, Florida last month, as evidence he is unfit to be commander-in-chief.
Obama, by contrast, repeatedly touts his ending of the Iraq war, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the fearsome operation to hound Al-Qaeda and claims that he has repaired the US image abroad as proof of "tested and proven" leadership.
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