GOP assails Obama on Libya attack
WASHINGTON — Republicans lashed out at President Barack Obama and senior administration officials over their evolving description of the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, a late campaign-season broadside challenging the veracity and leadership of an incumbent on the upswing.
Desperate to reverse the apparent trajectory of the White House race, Republicans sense a political opportunity in Obama’s reluctance to utter the words “terrorist attack,” as well as the varying explanations emerging from the administration about the assault in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Talk of Watergate-style scandal, stonewalling and cover-up echoed in the GOP ranks Thursday, from the head of the party to members of Congress to Mitt Romney’s campaign staff.
This full-throated criticism comes five days before the first debate between Obama and Romney, with Republicans determined to cast the president as dishonest and ineffectual on foreign and domestic policy.
“Amid Middle East turmoil and six weeks before the election, President Obama refuses to have an honest conversation with the American people,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party, wrote in an article for the website Real Clear Politics. “The country deserves honesty, not obfuscation, from our president.”
Republicans say the administration has been slow to call the assault a terrorist attack and has criticized its initial insistence that the attack was a spontaneous response to the anti-Islam video that touched off demonstrations across the Middle East.
Since then, it has become clear that the Benghazi assault was distinct from the mobs that burned American flags and protested what they considered the blasphemy in the movie, but didn’t attack U.S. personnel.
Republicans also have suggested that the administration had intelligence suggesting the deadly attack might happen and ignored it.
“I think it’s pretty clear that they haven’t wanted to level with the American people. We expect candor from the president and transparency,” Romney told Fox News this week.
The White House and Democrats accused the GOP of politicizing national security, with officials specifically mentioning Romney’s quick swipe at Obama as an extremist sympathizer as the crisis was still unfolding in North Africa around Sept. 11.
“The Republican approach is to shoot first and ask questions later,” said Rep. Adasm Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “The administration wants to do an investigation and be as accurate as possible. That’s the difference between partisan politics and trying to govern.”
Democrats also used the criticism to recall Romney’s missteps during his summertime overseas trip and his omission in his prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention of any mention of U.S. military forces fighting in Afghanistan.
“Every time Mitt Romney has attempted to dip his toe into foreign policy quarters, it’s been an unmitigated disaster,” said Obama campaign press secretary Jen Psaki.