Cantor: Obama remark ‘underestimates’ dangers in Middle East

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Monday accused President Obama of demonstrating a lack of seriousness and leadership over the recent turmoil in the Middle East.

With Congress in recess through the election, Cantor (R-Va.) held a conference call as a surrogate for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and criticized Obama’s record on foreign policy.

He singled out the president’s comments in a “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday, in which he referred to recent events in the Middle East as “bumps in the road.”

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“I think that absolutely underestimates and minimizes the real difficulties that we face on the ground there,” Cantor told reporters on the conference call. He cited the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in what the White House now says was a terrorist attack, as well as the uprising in Syria and the election in Egypt of a president from the Muslim Brotherhood. “These are all very, very concerning developments and something that I think demands our president to stand up and indicate that this is not the direction that we would like to see the Middle East head.”

Cantor said the United States needed “a much stronger hand at the helm” of foreign policy.

Romney also seized on Obama’s comments in campaign appearances on Monday. "These are not bumps in the road, these are human lives," he told a crowd in Pueblo, Colo. "These are developments we don't want to see."

Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, also criticized Obama for not meeting in person with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while he was in the United States for a meeting of the United Nations. And he said Obama minimized Israel’s importance by saying it was just “one of” America’s closest allies in the region. The turmoil in the Middle East and the threat posed to Israel by a nuclear Iran, Cantor said, “begs for leadership instead of an appearance on ‘The View.’ ”

The White House earlier Monday hit back on GOP criticism of Obama’s remarks, calling the attacks "profoundly offensive" and a "desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases."

"The president was referring to the transformations in the region to this process that has only began less than two years ago, as we saw in Tunisia, and continues to this day with remarkable transformations occurring in countries around the region," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "And obviously in these countries there are huge challenges, huge obstacles to the kinds of change that the people in these countries are demanding, to the kinds of governments that are democratic in nature and responsive to the interests of average citizens in these countries."

—Justin Sink contributed.

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