Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Obama attacked over Libya violence

Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Ohio (AP/ David Richard)

Republicans have lashed out at President Barack Obama and his administration chiefs over their evolving description of the deadly September 11 attack on the US consulate in Libya.

Desperate to reverse the apparent trajectory of the White House race, Republicans sensed a political opportunity in Mr 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 US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Talk of Watergate-style scandal, stonewalling and cover-up echoed in the Republican ranks, from the head of the party to members of congress to Mitt Romney's campaign staff.

The criticism comes five days before the first debate between Mr Obama and presidential rival Mitt Romney, with Republicans determined to cast the president as dishonest and ineffectual on both 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, said 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 criticised its initial insistence that the attack was a spontaneous response to the crude 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 against what they considered the blasphemy in the film, but did not attack US staff. Republicans have also 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 candour from the president and transparency," Mr Romney told Fox News this week.

The White House and Democrats accused the Republicans of politicising national security, with officials specifically mentioning Mr Romney's quick swipe at Mr Obama as an extremist sympathiser as the crisis was still unfolding in North Africa around September 11.

"The Republican approach is to shoot first and ask questions later," Rep Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said. "The administration wants to do an investigation and be as accurate as possible. That's the difference between partisan politics and trying to govern."

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