By Julian Pecquet - 09/08/13 10:00 AM EDT
The first anniversary of the Benghazi, Libya terror attack is making it more difficult for President Obama to win support for a military strike against Syria.
Tea Party lawmakers say the Obama administration lacks credibility on Syria because of the Benghazi attack.
“The administration has a serious credibility issue with the American people due to the unanswered questions surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi almost a year ago,” Duncan said.
Duncan's line of questioning drew the angriest response of the hours-long hearing.
“We're talking about people being killed by gas and you want to go talk about Benghazi and Fast and Furious,” Kerry replied. “We don't deserve to drag this into yet another Benghazi discussion when the real issue here is whether or not the Congress is going to stand up for international norms.”
The sharp exchange underscored the deep disconnect between the administration and congressional Republicans over Benghazi.
Those who want to punish the Bashar Assad regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons have trouble seeing any connection with Benghazi. But many Americans are convinced of a nefarious cover-up involving covert CIA operations and gun-running to Syria.
Benghazi will share the spotlight with Syria on Wednesday, when thousands come to Capitol Hill for events commemorating the one-year anniversary.
For the first time, the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack will also be marked by people who want the nation to remember Benghazi.
Special Operations Speaks, a group of special forces veterans, is sending about 50 supporters to Congress early next week to press lawmakers to vote “no” on Syria, the group told The Hill. The veterans will be targeting House Republicans and urging them to resist any intervention in Syria until after Congress creates a select committee to investigate Benghazi and the panel's findings are made public.
“It'll help us determine all the players in this [Syria] conflict,” said the group's political director, Larry Ward. “We need a clear picture.”
Duncan seemed to agree at last week's hearing.
“The American people deserve answers about Benghazi before we move forward with military involvement in Syria's civil war,” he said.
Ward said his group's members overwhelming oppose intervention in Syria. The Syria debate, he said, “is fueling the grassroots and fueling the calls for an investigation into Benghazi because our foreign policy is a disaster.”
“All we're doing is making the rest of the world angry at us,” he said.
Those sentiments are widely shared by Tea Party Republicans on Capitol Hill. Some 131 House members – 100 Republicans and 31 Democrats – were leaning “no” as of Friday afternoon, according to The Hill's whip list, versus only 31 leaning “yes.”
Some lawmakers have gone as far as suggesting Obama's call for military action is timed to detract attention from Benghazi and other issues they deem to be “scandals.” President Bill Clinton faced similar accusations in 1998 when he ordered strikes against Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.
“With the president's red line, why was there no call for military response [after reports of chemical weapons use] in April?” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) asked Kerry on Wednesday. “Was it delayed to divert attention today from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals, the failure of Obamacare enforcement, the tragedy of the White House-drafted sequestration, or the upcoming debt limit vote?”
Others have been more diplomatic.
“Secretary Kerry, you spoke about how the use of this gas breached the norms of civilized behavior,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.). “As I look at this, that same line of reasoning should have applied to Benghazi.
“The assassination of a diplomat breaches norms that were recognized probably far longer than norms against use of sarin gas. And yet the U.S. has not acted to avenge the death of the four Americans, including our ambassador, who were massacred in Benghazi.”
--This report was updated at 1:14 p.m.