GIGOT: Meanwhile, the other big event this week is the argument, public argument between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the United States over how firmly to draw so-called red lines against Iran's nuclear program. It was an hour-long phone call one evening this week between Netanyahu and Obama -- seemed to have calmed the latest furor down. But what message does that send to our foes in the Middle East that we're fighting with our allies?
KAMINSKI: Exactly. I think that message here is that never have we had as contentious a relationship with the Israelis that we have right now. And if we treat our friend the way this administrates chooses to treat Israel, then the foes say, this is not a country which is serious about being a leader in the world. And it is -- it's a lot of people in this country think a power on the decline in the region. And the message is that we're not willing to step up into a role in that world to sort of shape an outcome which is more conducive to peace and prosperity for that region, but also stability, which is good for us.
GIGOT: It would not seem, Mary, to encourage any restraint on the part of Iran if it sees us fighting with Israel.
O'GRADY: And it probably wasn't helpful for Netanyahu to meet with Romney the way that he did, because I think --
GIGOT: On Romney's visit recently to Israel?
O'GRADY: Well, yes, because I think that Obama is a little annoyed about that.
He sees it clearly who Netanyahu would like to see --
GIGOT: But the two did work together. I think it was a McKenzie, earlier. Somewhere in their career, they worked.
GIGOT: So they do have a relationship.
O'GRADY: Yes. I think there's a little bit -- that President Obama's engaging a little bit of payback there.
GIGOT: All right.
Still ahead, as events in the Middle East take center stage in the presidential race, we'll look at how the candidates responded to this week's events and which campaign has more to lose in a foreign policy showdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, R- FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: American leadership is still sorely needed. In the face of this violence, America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead. American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: That was Governor Mitt Romney responding to Tuesday's assaults on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the embassy in Cairo. Romney came under fire this week for criticizing the American embassy in Cairo's initial response to the violence there. The statement released shortly before Egyptian protesters stormed that embassy's compound read, in part, quote, "The embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
So, Matt, you were critical this week of Mitt Romney's response to the events. How so?
KAMINSKI: I think it was a very ham-handed response to the events. It was happening -- you can quibble with the embassy statements. I think I would. Many people would. Although we're not in that building at the time that it was issued and trying to calm down a rampaging mob just outside of your walls.
The problem is the story is not the embassy statement. The story are the attacks on U.S. missions overseas. I can understand the impulse to try and step in there with a campaign blow, but to do it in the way that he did it, in the middle of the events as they were unfolding, while he has not spent any time at all talking about foreign policy through his campaign, made it seem a bit knee-jerkish and --
GIGOT: Was it what he criticized? Should he have had a larger target there with a larger Obama foreign policy or is it the fact that he decided to criticize on foreign policy at all?
KAMINSKI: He's tried to sort of walk back from this today. And later in the week, tried to do a broader critique of the Obama foreign policy, and that's perfectly fine. But I think to sort of jab the president in the eye while Americans are being killed overseas would not go down well.
O'GRADY: Right, Matt, because Democrats never did that to George Bush, right?
You know, the thing is that you have to look the at what the State Department said at that time, in the context of what the overall Obama policy has been, foreign policy has been, which has been to apologize. He had the apology tour in 2009. He was in Cairo. Even Henry Kissinger came out the other day and said, we cannot, as a government, apologize for what these people construe as a provocation if our government was no way involved.
I think Romney was completely within his rights to express the failure of the embassy on that point.
HENNINGER: I take Matt's point about the nature of the statement. It was a little bit -- I thought it was legitimate, quite frankly. We're in a presidential campaign and, oh, my gosh, politics.
GIGOT: How dare they talk about a presidential responsibility like, say, foreign policy.
HENNINGER: But, while it is true that Romney has not been talking about it, it's also true that neither one of these candidates wants to deal with foreign policy in this campaign. Barack Obama, as we've said on this program previously, is the president who wanted to put the world on the back burner until after the election, specifically what has been going on in Syria. Now the world has forced itself upon both of these candidates. and Mitt Romney, at that point, was not prepared to talk in a broader context. And this subject deserves to be addressed by a challenger for the American presidency.
GIGOT: So you're thinking -- you're saying maybe he should have waited a day and then put this in a little larger context, which is really the position, the declining position of America and the world after four years of the Mitt Romney presidency? Less influence.
HENNINGER: I think the campaign can very much use a much more generalized address by Mitt Romney, criticizing Barack Obama's approach to foreign policy right now.
KAMINSKI: But, even on simple political terms, being seen as saying - - and this is not what he said -- but it's our fault that we're being attacked, isn't going to go down well. It's --