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Libya attacks become embroiled in election year politics


During Wednesday’s hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Libya, the reality of the situation on the ground in Benghazi came crashing down in front of the few lawmakers who had remained until the hearing’s fourth hour. While recounting the difficulty he had in trying to get more security forces in the country, Regional Security Office Eric Nordstrom explained that, sometimes, he felt as though he was being attacked from within.  

“You know what makes most frustrating about this assignment?” Nordstrom asked rhetorically, “It's not the hardships, it's not the gunfire, it's not the threats — it's dealing and fighting against the people and programs personnel who are supposed to be supporting me."

Two former security officers from the Benghazi consulate where four Americans were killed in a terrorist attack told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that they had requested security assistance but were "fighting a losing battle." NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

"For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building," he said.

And while the statement attempted to paint a picture of the realities on the ground in Libya, the reality in the United States is that the discussion surrounding the attack, and whether it was preventable, has been overcome by politics.

“With each passing day, we learn more about the ways in which the Obama Administration misled the American people about the tragic events that transpired in the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012,” Mitt Romney’s Policy Director, Lanhee Chen, said in a statement today.

The criticism keys in on comments made by UN Ambassador Susan Rice in the days after the attack in Benghazi.  During an interview on Meet the Press, Rice called the attack “a spontaneous reaction” and “a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo” in response to a video circulating on YouTube that criticizes the prophet Muhammad.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice discusses the financial aid the U.S. provides to Middle Eastern countries.

That story didn’t hold up, and nine days after the attack, Republican lawmakers told reporters that there was no evidence of a protest before the attack, even though Democrats said that the protest was still a factor that night.  After a classified, members-only briefing by Secretary Clinton on Capitol Hill, Rep Dutch Ruppersberger (MD), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, even called the demonstrations a “fact.”

A fuller picture emerged this Tuesday evening, when the State Department acknowledged that there had been no demonstration, and that the attack was instead “premeditated” and “unprecedented” considering the size and scope of operation that resulted in Amb. Stevens’s death.

What has transpired in the weeks since the attack in Benghazi is a game of political hot potato, where neither side wants to take the blame for oversights that contributed to the killing of a U.S. ambassador for the first time since Jimmy Carter was in the White House. 

Democrats argued Republicans shouldn’t be advocating for increased security in foreign countries when they have voted in the past years to cut funding for just that. The only problem is that while 147 Republicans voted to cut that funding, 149 Democrats voted to do the same.

Republicans say they want to get to the bottom of the attack, but they failed to allow the Democrats on the committee to access their key witness or any of the documents they had unearthed, a breach of traditional protocol during committee investigations.

But looking at this on the macro-level, the biggest hit during this political fight has been dealt to President Barack Obama himself.  

Foreign policy has been one of the president’s points of strength amid an anemic economic recovery. Obama’s foreign policy achievements, such as the killing of Osama Bin Laden and withdrawal from Iraq, have bolstered his résumé as he seeks a second term.

Sensing that advantage, Republicans have taken aim at the president's handling of the LIbya attack.

“I’m stunned that they thought that this was some kind of spontaneous demonstration,” Sen John McCain said on Sept. 20, “It shows the level of their abysmal knowledge about fundamental aspects of terrorist attacks and militant operations.”

It’s a characterization that president would like to avoid going into the final four weeks of the campaign, which will include a debate focusing specifically on foreign policy.