Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress on Monday seized on the administration’s backpedaling from its account of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, which is fast becoming a deep political problem for President Obama.
Romney and Republicans said the administration’s admission late Friday that the Benghazi assault was a “deliberate and organized terrorist attack” was a significant shift after weeks of claiming it was the result of a protest against an anti-Islam video.
“The White House line is — you’ve heard the president say it — is ‘Osama bin Laden is dead, al Qaeda’s done, everything’s fine in the Middle East,’ ” Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “This series of events obviously contradicts that campaign slogan.”
Romney himself penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Monday calling for a “new strategy toward the Middle East” ahead of what aides call a major foreign-policy address sometime in the next few weeks.
“I think the American people see that the result of the Obama foreign policy has been increased chaos, increased chances for conflict and crisis, and what we need is a policy of American strength, one which encourages peace and one that defends our interests and values abroad,” a Romney aide told The Hill. “And that’s the choice we’re going to lay out.”
The administration has pushed back hard against accusations that it mishandled the situation in Libya and deliberately misled the American people. Amid criticism of glaring security gaps and reports that FBI investigators are still stranded in Tripoli almost three weeks after the attack, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Robert Firman told The Hill on Monday that talks are under way to use Marines already in Libya to provide a security escort for the FBI team to Benghazi, several hundred miles from the capital.
Republicans are running no fewer than three ads taking the president to task for calling recent events in the Middle East “bumps in the road” and appearing on ABC’s “The View” last week instead of meeting with world leaders at the United Nations. And in Congress, they’ve kept the pressure on Obama to explain what the administration knew, and when, about the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
But McCain and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan declined to echo House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King’s (R-N.Y.) call for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to resign. King faulted Rice for her initial description of the attack as an unplanned response to an anti-Islam video made in America.
McCain told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday that Rice “was the messenger,” while Ryan, on the conservative “Laura Ingraham Show,” said “we don’t have all of the facts surrounding this particular person, but we do know the administration has been extremely inconsistent.”
Both suggested Romney needed to win the election so that the entire administration would be replaced.
The Romney campaign hopes Obama’s foreign-policy woes will resonate with voters, but critics say Romney will have to do a better job convincing them that he has a viable alternative. The candidate has been largely silent on the issue since getting lambasted in the media for his initial criticism of the administration while the protests were still under way, and even Monday’s op-ed failed to impress conservatives who are still waiting for him lay out his vision.
“Any time any candidate talks about a specific problem, the context in which it happened, he also has to say, ‘And this is why I’m better,’ ” said Danielle Pletka, the vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “That’s always the missing element [with Romney]. You’ve got to make a sale to the American people on this.”
She said the election largely will revolve around the economy but a strong case by Romney on foreign policy will still help him with voters.
“There’s real spillover into other areas,” Pletka said. “People are very unhappy with the current management of our country … but you’ve got to give them an alternative that they understand and that they believe in.”