UPDATE 1-Obama takes Romney to task on Libya in smack-down moment

Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:31am EDT

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By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON Oct 16 (Reuters) - In the defining moment of a testy debate, President Barack Obama lashed into Mitt Romney on Tuesday over the Republican's criticism of his handling of a deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya and sought to cast him as unfit to become commander-in-chief.

Moving to regain lost ground after a weak performance in the first presidential debate, Obama fought back against his rival's accusations that he had played down the Sept. 11 assault by Islamist militants in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Romney, who dominated the candidates' previous encounter, appeared stunned as Obama launched a finger-wagging counterattack over an issue that has become a flashpoint with just three weeks to go in a presidential race considered too close to call.

The exchange came near the end of a debate dominated mostly by arguments over the economy, jobs and taxes, considered voters' main concerns in the Nov. 6 election.

Romney and his aides have sought to use the Benghazi incident - as well as anti-American unrest in other parts of the Arab world - to dent Obama's national security credentials and accuse him of pursuing a failed Middle East policy.

But Obama came out swinging in their second debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, accusing Romney of exploiting the Benghazi attack in an effort to score "offensive" political points.

"While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points, and that's not how a commander-in-chief operates" Obama said, referring to the Republican's initial criticism of the administration's response before the full extent of the bloodshed was known.

TESTY EXCHANGE

Obama and Romney argued testily in front of a group of undecided voters over whether Obama had come out fast enough in describing the Libya attack as terrorism, and the president appeared to get the better of his opponent.

"I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror," Obama said.

Romney was incredulous. He challenged Obama's assertion, apparently unaware of Obama's remarks the morning after the Benghazi attack.

"Get the transcript," Obama told Romney in the closest thing to a smack-down moment in the 90-minute debate.

"He did, in fact, sir," moderator Candy Crowley said, siding with Obama. "He did call it an act of terror."

A transcript of the Rose Garden appearance that day shows Obama said: "...no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation."

But despite that comment, some of Obama's top aides had initially attributed the Benghazi violence to protests over an anti-Islam film and said it was not premeditated, before finally

acknowledging much later that it was a terrorist attack.

And Obama, in a Sept. 24 taping of an appearance on ABC's "The View" program, also seemed to hedge when he was asked whether Benghazi was an act of terrorism. He said it "wasn't just a mob action" but pointed to an ongoing investigation.

Obama said for the first time on Tuesday he was "ultimately responsible" for the safety and security of the Americans killed in the attack. "I'm the president and I'm always responsible," he said.

Seeking to recover from his apparent misstep, Romney pointed to the administration's shifting explanations of the events in Benghazi, suggesting it had been an attempt to mislead.

"It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group," he said.

In the months before the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. and allied intelligence agencies warned the White House and State Department repeatedly that the region was becoming an increasingly dangerous vortex for jihadist groups loosely linked or sympathetic to al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.

Despite those warnings and bold public displays by Islamist militants around Benghazi, embassies in the region were advised to project a sense of calm and normalcy in the run-up to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Romney's supporters have accused the administration of being slow to label the attack as terrorism to avoid detracting from the president's campaign narrative of being a strong world leader who put al Qaeda on the path to defeat.

Polls have shown national security a strong point for Obama with voters, especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Going on the offensive, Obama sought to depict Romney, who has little foreign policy experience and has stumbled during his occasional forays on the world stage, as ill-prepared to take on the role of commander-in-chief in a dangerous world.

Romney fired back, saying the Benghazi incident "calls into question the president's whole policy in the Middle East."

"Look what's happening in Syria, in Egypt, now in Libya. Consider the distance between ourselves and Israel," Romney said. "We have Iran four years closer to a nuclear bomb."

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Comments (33)
Nico1 wrote:
September 12 — President Barack Obama:

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack. … No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”

Assuming he was aware and not just a scripted speech but, why would he say this…?

September 20 — President Obama at a town hall meeting organized by the Spanish-language Univsion Network, responding to a question about the possible involvement of al Qaeda:

“What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”

How stupid do you think the public are? Read the rest..

September 13 — Jay Carney:

“The protests we’re seeing around the region are in reaction to this movie. They are not directly in reaction to any policy of the United States or the government of the United States or the people of the United States.”

September 13 — A senior U.S. official tells CNN that the Benghazi violence was a “clearly planned attack”:

“It was not an innocent mob,” the official said. “The video or 9/11 made a handy excuse and could be fortuitous from their perspective, but this was a clearly planned military-type attack.”

September 13 — State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland:

“Well, as we said yesterday when we were on background, we are very cautious about drawing any conclusions with regard to who the perpetrators were, what their motivations were, whether it was premeditated, whether they had any external contacts, whether there was any link, until we have a chance to investigate along with the Libyans. So I know that’s going to be frustrating for you, but we really want to make sure that we do this right and we don’t jump to conclusions. That said, obviously, there are plenty of people around the region citing this disgusting video as something that has been motivating.”

September 14 — Jay Carney:

“We were not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.”

September 16 — Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on CBS’ “Face the Nation”:

“We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

September 18 — Jay Carney:

“Our belief based on the information we have is it was the video that caused the unrest in Cairo, and the video and the unrest in Cairo that helped — that precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi and elsewhere. What other factors were involved is a matter of investigation.”

September 19 — Jay Carney:

“It is a simple fact that there are, in post-revolution, post-war Libya, armed groups, there are bad actors hostile to the government, hostile to the West, hostile to the United States. And as has been the case in other countries in the region, it is certainly conceivable that these groups take advantage of and exploit situations that develop, when they develop, to protest against or attack either Westerners, Americans, Western sites or American sites. … Right now I’m saying we don’t have evidence at this point that this was premeditated or preplanned to coincide on a — to happen on a specific date or coincide with that anniversary.”

September 19 — Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olson, responding to a question by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman on whether the attack was a terrorist attack:

“They were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy. … At this point, what I would say is that a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly the Benghazi area, as well we are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates, in particular al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” Olson also said U.S. officials had no “specific evidence of significant advanced planning.”

September 20 — Jay Carney:

“It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials.”

Oct 17, 2012 2:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
JasonD-KC wrote:
Here’s something I don’t understand. Obama said he called the Libya attack an “act of terror” immediately. But then Susan Rice went out saying it was due to people who were protesting a YouTube video. Jay Carney seemed to back that statement up in meetings with the press.

If the President truly thought it was an act of terror from the beginning…why didn’t he say anything when everyone below him was telling the public something different? And if those people were misleading the public, why does the President still have them employed?

Oct 17, 2012 2:05am EDT  --  Report as abuse
JoeBUSA wrote:
It turned out this was a flat out LIE from Obama. He never called this a terrorist attack during the first two weeks. Crowley corroborated the lie as did this article.

Get some fact checkers Reuters!

Oct 17, 2012 2:07am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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