Republicans Use Benghazi Attack as Critique of President Obama’s Mideast Policy
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GWEN IFILL: Now back to the presidential campaign, where lingering foreign policy challenges in Libya and other Arab spring countries have raised questions about U.S. leadership abroad. Jeffrey Brown has that.
JEFFREY BROWN: The assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the death of the American ambassador continue to grow as fodder in the presidential campaign.
Last night, traveling in Peru, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directly addressed the question of who bears the blame for security failings in Benghazi.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: I take responsibility. I’m in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts.
JEFFREY BROWN: Clinton repeated the statement in writing today hours ahead of the second presidential debate.
Just last week at a House hearing, one of her top aides acknowledged that U.S. officials in Libya did ask for more security, but were refused. The next night, Vice President Biden had this to say.
JOSEPH BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again.
JEFFREY BROWN: White House officials meant that such requests don’t go to the president and vice president. And Secretary Clinton said the same last night.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: The president and the vice president certainly wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.
JEFFREY BROWN: Republicans, however, weren’t buying it.
In a statement, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte said: “If the president was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the president informed.”
Indeed, what happened in Libya has become the cutting edge for Republican criticism of President Obama’s overall response to upheavals in the Middle East.
Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said as much during last week’s debate.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-Wis.), Vice Presidential Candidate: This Benghazi issue would be a tragedy in and of itself, but unfortunately it’s indicative of a broader problem. And that is what we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy, which is making the world more chaotic and us less safe.
JEFFREY BROWN: Democrats in turn charge that the Romney-Ryan camp is simply playing politics with the Benghazi attack.
On Sunday, Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod again criticized Romney’s initial response.
DAVID AXELROD, Senior Obama Campaign Strategist: He jumped in right away, the day of these attacks, with half-information in a way that was denounced by both Republicans and Democrats. And there’s no doubt that he’s working hard to exploit this issue.
JEFFREY BROWN: Still, presidential politics aside, the early hopes of the Arab spring have given way to sobering realities, and not just in Libya.
In Egypt, once America’s staunch ally, the U.S. supported the move to oust longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. The ensuing election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi raised new questions about the country’s direction and its relationship with the U.S.
And in Syria, an ongoing civil war threatens to spill into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, while Islamic extremists threaten to overshadow the secular Syrian groups backed by the West.