LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – President Barack Obama observed a cardinal rule of politics as he returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday: don’t interfere when your opponent is committing political suicide.
As Republican rival Mitt Romney scrambled to contain the fallout from his reaction to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya and Egypt, Obama spoke broadly about the tragedy in a manner that emphasized the vast power he commands as commander in chief.
He vowed to track down those who killed four U.S. diplomats and mused on the risks borne by Americans who work to advance U.S. interests abroad.
He praised those who had lost their lives and insisted that the attacks would not deter U.S. efforts to help democracy emerge in the Middle East. And he said he would maintain the strongest military force in the world.
“No act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America,” he told an enthusiastic crowd of 8,000 at a Las Vegas convention center.
But Obama steered clear of attacks on Romney, who is already facing a barrage of criticism for his campaign’s response to the fast-moving foreign policy crisis. In fact, he didn’t mention Romney’s name at all.
As mobs attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the embassy in Cairo, Romney’s campaign in a statement Tuesday night portrayed the administration as apologetic over the incidents. Romney himself repeated the criticism on Wednesday morning after it was apparent that U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three others had been killed in Libya.
Fellow Republicans said the statement could be portrayed as political opportunism, and Obama told CBS News earlier in the day that Romney had a tendency to “shoot first and aim later.”
As he campaigned in the battleground state of Nevada, Obama limited his attacks to domestic concerns. He argued that Romney would push through tax cuts that would benefit the wealthy and eviscerate programs that help the middle class, like education and transportation.
“We do not believe that the answer to our challenges is to tell folks, ‘You are on your own,'” he said.
Obama has not shied from attacking Romney on foreign policy before. In a high-profile speech at last week’s Democratic convention, he said the former Massachusetts governor was stuck in a Cold War mindset and ridiculed him for insulting England over its preparation for the Olympic Games.
But on Wednesday, he sought to emphasize the country’s common values, not its partisan spats, as he discussed the Americans who died in the Middle East.
“They were working for the values that we hold dear as Americans, and as Americans we stand united, too, all of us, in gratitude for their service,” he said.