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’60 Minutes’ interview causes headache for White House
Published September 24, 2012


President Obama, in agreeing to a lengthy interview with "60 Minutes," may have created his own "bump in the road."

The president was facing heavy criticism from Republicans Monday for, in the course of that interview, referring to Middle East unrest as "bumps in the road," conceding "mistakes" in campaign ads and appearing to dismiss concern about Iran's nuclear program as "noise."

Romney's campaign seized on all three of those comments, and by Monday afternoon was hammering the president for the Middle East remark -- perhaps in a bid to return the favor after Democrats kept Romney against the wall last week defending his hidden-camera remarks on the "47 percent" of Americans who don't pay taxes. In the CBS interview, Obama said supporting the Arab Spring was the "right thing" to do but acknowledged there would be "bumps in the road" in the process.

"These are no bumps in the road. These are human lives," Romney retorted at a campaign stop in Colorado. On ABC News, Romney also said: "I can't imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was hit with a string of questions at Monday's briefing about the "60 Minutes" interview. The most aggressive accusation by the Romney campaign merited the most aggressive response from Carney.

The accusation about Obama's Middle East comments, Carney said Monday, is "both desperate and offensive."

He rejected the idea that the president was minimizing the recent violence -- in which four Americans were killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and others have been killed in the course of raging protests across a number of countries.

"The president was referring to the transformations in the region," Carney said. "There is a certain rather desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases here to find political advantage and, in this case, that's profoundly offensive."

That wasn't the only line Carney had to carefully explain Monday.

Romney's campaign had also criticized the president for his comments on Israel.

Asked about whether he feels pressure regarding Iran from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said in the interview: "When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what's right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that's out there."

He went on to refer to Israel as "one of our closest allies in the region."

Israel is typically referred to as America's closest ally in the region -- not just one of several.

Carney clarified Monday at the briefing that "you've heard the president say numerous times that Israel is our closest ally in the region." He said that bond is "unshakable."

As for the comment on the "noise" surrounding Iran's nuclear program, Carney again said Obama was making clear that his commitment to Israel "is as strong as ever and unbreakable in nature."

The Obama team was also taking heat Monday for Obama's suggestion that sometimes the campaign ads go "overboard" and contain "mistakes"

Obama argued that the "vigorous debate" helps better define each candidate's vision.

But Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said "the Obama campaign and its allies have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for the truth -- all while claiming to be concerned with 'the facts.' Tonight, even President Obama himself admitted his campaign has gone 'overboard' and made mistakes."

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On Muslim Uprising, Obama Mirrors Answer on Economy: A Bump in the Road
By Chris Stirewalt

Published September 24, 2012

“But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places the one organizing principle has been Islam.”

-- President Obama in an interview with “60 Minutes.”

President Obama is asking voters to take the prospect of economic recovery on faith: That the weak indicators of restoration are early signs of a more robust revival in the near future. The bad indicators, meanwhile, are just “bumps in the road.”

Whenever the unemployment picture darkens or the economy falters, voters are likely to hear the president or one of his advisers talk about “bumps in the road.”

Now, the president is applying the same metaphor to the deteriorating international situation, leading to the unforced error of calling the Middle East and North Africa unrest -- which has included everything from the recent attack on the consulate in Libya to violent protests -- as "bumps in the road."

The campaign of Republican nominee Mitt Romney is pouncing on that gaffe, made in an interview on “60 Minutes” just as Republicans have for years been blasting the president for calling tens of millions of Americans being unemployed, underemployed or having given up looking for work as “bumps in the road.”

The situation is made worse because Obama’s interview aired just two days after CNN went public with passages from the slain ambassador’s diary that show he was in increasing fear of attack but did not receive additional security in the unstable, Islamist nation.

Whenever the unemployment picture darkens or the economy falters, voters are likely to hear the president or one of his advisers talk about “bumps in the road.”

While the State Department is ripping the network for reporting on the contents of the journal despite promising the family of the slain diplomat that it would not on the grounds of respect for the dead and mourning, there’s no doubt that the candid warnings of the rise of Islamic radicals also bolster Republican claims that the administration was caught napping at a time of massive unrest and on the anniversary of 9/11.

The American situation in Muslim nations hasn’t been so precarious in a long time.

Al Qaeda, reeling from years of targeted attacks, has reasserted itself with a vengeance with the successful attack in Libya. Our troops in Afghanistan are under constant threat from the very people they are supposed to be equipping to hold that nation together. Islamists are on the march across the globe and turning what were once dubious allies into potential enemies.

As ultimatums rose from the Islamist/militarist government in Cairo and rioters laid siege to the U.S. consulate in Islamabad, the Obama administration was struggling to sort out its story line.

“Spontaneous” vanished as the word to explain the attack in Libya, giving way to “self-evident.” Over the course of more than a week, the president and his team shifted from talking about rioters incited by a YouTube clip that blasphemed the founder of Islam, Mohammed, to suggesting that bad guys were exploiting the video to put the West on the defensive.

It was a gradual walk back and an effort to avoid the damning Republican claim that the president, for all his kill lists and the snuffing of Usama bin Laden, was more focused on his re-election than national security.

The president is downplaying the disturbing trend in the Middle East, a region he says is headed for democratic enlightenment, as a bump in the road to eventual peace and stability. His policies of encouraging the Islamist governments that toppled reliable but authoritarian U.S. allies in the region look very much in doubt right now, but the president is trying to express cool confidence.

Obama’s intent is to say that this was expected and all part of a larger, more complex strategy that takes a longer, more nuanced view of the region. The message on the Muslim uprisings, as it is on the economy: “It’s cool. We’ve got this under control.”

But as with the domestic “bumps” the foreign policy “bump,” tends to make the president look inadequately alarmed about a problem that looks very real and very alarming to voters who watch their flag burning around the world and see the bloody handprints on the pillars in Benghazi.

Obama’s chief advantage in this is that Republicans and Romney remain tentative on foreign policy in the long shadow of the Iraq war. The party remains divided between interventionists and non-interventionists and many of the top policy makers in the GOP aren’t politically palatable because of their role in planning or executing the Iraq endeavor.

Romney has to be careful not to open himself too much to the president’s charge that he would start shipping troops over to the worst neighborhood in the world at a time when voters are desperate to see such interventions at an end.

But, the president’s effort to appear blasé about the crisis have certainly given Romney an opening to press his claim that Obama is primarily concerned about his own re-election.

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