Questions surrounding his administration’s handling of last month’s terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans continue to haunt President Barack Obama and have become hot political fodder.
Opportunistic Republicans sensing opportunity as the presidential election enters its final stretch continue to hammer the president about the bungled response. They ratcheted up the heat Friday following news that the administration might have known early on that it was militants – not angry protesters – who launched the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others.
Within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports saying the attack was carried out by militants, officials told The Associated Press. But for days, the Obama administration blamed it on an out-of-control demonstration over an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, wasted no time in leading the GOP charge.
“Look around the world, turn on your TV,” Ryan said Friday in an interview with WTAQ radio in the election battleground state of Wisconsin. “And what we see in front of us is the absolute unraveling of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.”
As a security matter, how the Obama administration immediately described the attack has little effect on broader counter-terrorism strategies or on the ongoing hunt for those responsible for the incident, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. And Republicans have offered no explanation for why the president would want to conceal the nature of the attack.
But the issue has given Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney an opening to question Obama on foreign policy and national security, two areas that have received little attention in an election dominated by the economy. Obama’s signature national security accomplishment is the military’s killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Ryan was teeing up the issue for Monday’s presidential debate on foreign policy.
“I’m excited we’re going to have a chance to talk about that on Monday,” Ryan said.
Obama has insisted that information was shared with the American people as it came in and that the attack remains under investigation.
“What happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up,” he said during a Thursday appearance on ‘The Daily Show.’ “And you make sure that you find out what’s broken and you fix it.”
The report from the station chief was written late Wednesday, Sept. 12, and reached intelligence agencies in Washington the next day, intelligence officials said. It is not clear how widely the information from the CIA station chief was circulated.
U.S. intelligence officials have said the information was just one of many widely conflicting accounts, which became clearer by the following week.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN that the administration didn’t understand the gravity of the situation in Benghazi and, as a result, bad decisions were made to promote the video as the root of the violence.
Democrats have spent the past week explaining the administration’s handling of the attack. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attributed the early conflicting reports to “the fog of war.”
A Republican-led Congress is asking the administration for documents about the attack, in hopes of building a timeline of what the government knew and when.
Nevertheless, polls have consistently showed voters trust Obama over Romney to handle terrorism. If the president were worried that Monday’s debate would change that, he showed no signs of it Thursday night.
Speaking at a charity dinner, he offered this preview of the debate: “Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden.”