AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Mitt Romney has been criticizing President Obama for the administration's response to the unrest in Egypt and Libya. As we reported, Romney took issue with the statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo about that anti-Muslim film. The statement released before the protest there on Tuesday, but reiterated after the violence. The embassy said it, quote, "condemned the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
Now Mitt Romney followed with a statement Tuesday night that said: It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks. Well, the Obama campaign responded that it was shocked that Romney was making political attacks at a time when, as it turned out, the U.S. ambassador to Libya had been killed.
And President Obama said Romney, quote, "seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later." Today, we ask Romney's senior foreign policy adviser, Ambassador Rich Williamson, about all of this.
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: The embassy made a statement which was inappropriate. They reiterated the statement that was inappropriate after there had been property - American property burned, after the U.S. flag had been taken down and a black flag similar to the al-Qaida flag had been lifted. And all this time, there was nothing out of the State Department or the White House. But amazingly, once Governor Romney made a statement, within minutes, the White House distanced themselves from the embassy statement.
CORNISH: And the State Department later affirmed the statement had not been cleared by Washington. Today, Rich Williamson expressed to us his frustration with questions about the timing of Mitt Romney's statement. He said what people want to hear is not about timing, but substance.
WILLIAMSON: What the American people have to do is look at how the stewardship has been of President Obama and his administration. And if it's in Iran, if it's Syria, if it's the three U.S. embassies that have been breached, clearly it has failed to protect our interest and project a resolute, strong America. Two, there are a lot of things that could and should have been done in the last three and a half years to put us in better position. But the governor has been very clear that the United States should not be giving aid to Egypt without conditions. Also, that we shouldn't be giving debt relief without conditions.
Also, he does remember that Egypt is an ally even though the vice president - I mean, the president seemed he got confused about that two days ago. So you work with your allies, but you don't give them a blank check of American taxpayers. That's what this administration did with respect to the military aid, civilian aid, and now with the debt forgiveness.
WILLIAMSON: That would be a different approach. We'd also work with our European allies and others to try to leverage our influence to strengthen and help the moderate factions not only in Egypt and elsewhere.
CORNISH: And on the issue of Libya, this is, after all, where there has been the greatest damage done...
CORNISH: ...in the embassy attacks. Are you implying that under President Romney - a President Romney - that the killing of the ambassador would not have happened?
WILLIAMSON: Let me be perfectly clear, the people responsible for the first killing of a U.S. ambassador since Jimmy Carter - the first killing of a U.S. ambassador since Jimmy Carter - is the responsibility of the bad actors who invaded that U.S. sovereign property, used weapons and killed those four people, including the ambassador who I know and I worked with. When I was the president's special envoy to Sudan, I did negotiations in Tripoli. He was a good man. He was a patriot. We should all feel condolences and sympathy for his family and should feel pride in his great service to our country. So, first point, it's not anyone in Washington's fault that he was killed. It's the fault of the people that did this heinous act.
Having said that, one of the lessons of the last 20 years in post-conflict situations, that Bill Clinton learned in the Balkans in Kosovo and Bosnia, that we learned in East Timor in the Pacific, that we learned in Sierra Leone in Africa, is when an authoritarian regime falls, as a result of conflict, you can't just walk away. You have to help in reconciliation, reconstruction, helping institutions of law and order, security be built. Does that mean...
CORNISH: So Governor Romney would have us be involved in reconstruction efforts in Libya?
WILLIAMSON: With the NATO allies who joined with us in the NATO action as well as, you know, Qatar and some of the Gulf states, we've joined together to help provide technical assistance to help. Just as Bill Clinton did in Bosnia and as Bill Clinton in Kosovo did, yes.
CORNISH: But having - can the argument be made that after a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that reconstruction and intervention on the ground like that is something that American voters have expressed fatigue with.
WILLIAMSON: Well, I think there is fatigue, and justifiably so in both the cases you mentioned. But there's been more patience when it's been done more effectively. I've mentioned four places. That wasn't the same fatigue. It was made as an international effort. The burden was shared. The security was made firm and sustainable right away, so other steps could be maken(ph). There's a separate discussion about the mistakes that may have been made in Afghanistan and Iraq. We should learn from those. But that doesn't mean you can just walk away. And one of the things when you walk away is the type of insecurity that allows this to happen.
All evidence so far is that the Libyan government which is - was fairly elected and is a moderate government, it's not an Islamist, extremist government, publically apologized, want to do all they can to find the perpetrators of this violence to justice and had no role in letting this happen. But they are fundamentally weak. That's not a debatable point. It's one that's broadly understood and accepted. We can and could have been doing things to help them. Now, is it massive? No. Especially if all those who are engaged in the military action worked, it would be shared, the burden would be shared, but you cannot walk away. And so you asked me what the differences were. Those are the differences in how we'd approach it. And I'd suggest to you that Libya would be in a stronger position if we had done that.
CORNISH: Rich Williamson, senior foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
WILLIAMSON: Thanks so much. Have a great afternoon.
CORNISH: Now a number of assertions made there about President Obama's foreign policy. And in the coming days we plan to talk, as well, with the Obama campaign about foreign policy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.