WASHINGTON Oct 16 President Barack Obama and
Republican Mitt Romney locked horns on Tuesday over last month's
deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, engaging
in their angriest exchange yet on an issue that has become a
flashpoint in the final weeks before Election Day.
Moving aggressively 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 in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and
three other Americans.
Seeking to dent Obama's national security credentials,
Romney attempted to use the incident to cast Obama's entire
Middle East policy as a failure and raise questions about his
foreign policy prowess.
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 and suggesting he was unfit to become America's
"While we were still dealing with our diplomats being
threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release," Obama
said, referring to the Republican's initial criticism of the
administration's response before the full extent of the
bloodshed was known.
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.
Obama pointed out that he had in fact called it terrorism. A
transcript of his remarks in the White House Rose Garden the
morning after the attack show Obama said: "...no acts of terror
will ever shake the resolve of this 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.
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,"
Romney and Republicans have seized on the administration's
shifting explanations of the events in Benghazi, saying: "It
took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a
Going on the offensive, Obama sought to cast 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.
Obama repeated his vow to hunt down those behind the attack.