Romney: Middle East tumult "hardly" a bump in the road

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally at Dâ MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

(CBS News) Mitt Romney told CBS News Monday that the turmoil in the Middle East -- that's spanned not only the past few weeks, but the past few months -- is "hardly" just a "bump in the road," as President Obama characterized it on CBS News' "60 Minutes."

"Let's look at the broad themes in the Middle East over the past several months," Romney said in an interview with CBS News chief political correspondent Jan Crawford. "What's happening in the Middle East is hardly characterized in my view as a bump in the road. Not with Egypt electing a Muslim Brotherhood president. Not with Libya seeing the assassination of an American ambassador. Not with Syria, with 20,000 people killed by Mr. Assad. Not with Pakistan in tumult and of course, not with Iran on the verge of becoming nuclear capable. This is a far - far from a bump in the road."

In the "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday, Mr. Obama told Steve Kroft that he still supports the political upheaval and movement toward democracy in the Middle East, even after the recent violence that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

"I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance," Mr. Obama said. "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. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, you know, can be tapped into by demagogues."

Romney told Crawford that recent developments show "that events are spinning to a certain degree out of the kind of influence that we'd like to have. Where we're seeing ourselves at the mercy of events rather than shaping events. And we need an administration that is up to shaping events in the Middle East and not seeing them as 'bumps in a road' - likewise domestically."

Romney said it's "very clear" that the evidence at this point suggests Stevens was murdered by al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliated individuals. "This was a terrorist attack," he said. "It's tragic."

The Obama administration initially said the attack was a spontaneous event as the result of an anti-Muslim movie, Crawford pointed out.

"I think increasingly the reports suggest that there was a planned effort to assassinate the ambassador, but I'm not going to pre-judge the results of careful scrutiny," Romney responded. "We'll see what develops over time, what kind of information comes forward. But I think it's pretty clear that the White House jumped the gun. The administration immediately dismissed any prospect of this being a coordinated or pre-planned effort, and I think it's very likely that it was pre-planned and it was an assassination and it was a terrorist event."

For more of Jan Crawford's interview with Mitt Romney, watch The CBS Evening News Monday night and CBS This Morning on Tuesday morning.

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