Just last month, no political analyst would have named Benghazi as an issue that could potentially affect the presidential election.
Yet the Arab Spring, Islamic extremism, Iran’s nuclear program, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s clear red line may find resurgent importance in this presidential run.
Voters have increasingly sent foreign policy, national security, and even terrorism to the rock-bottom depths of polls ranking the most important issues at the ballot box.
Yet presidential and congressional campaigns alike know that a turn of global events, as highlighted by the Sept. 11 attack in Libya and this week of world leaders streaming through Turtle Bay, can turn voters’ attention back to whether a candidate is equipped to best represent America’s and mankind’s interests on the global stage.
The third and last of the presidential debates next month will be focused on foreign policy. The Oct. 22 face-off will be moderated by CBS’ Bob Schieffer at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., a swing state whose voters have historically been concerned about international affairs issues ranging from Israel to Cuba.
That’s nearly a month away, and any number of topics could be catapulted into the headlines between now and then. But if Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy in recent days is any indication, Republicans are hoping that Benghazi and other hot-button crises can highlight their candidate’s commander in chief chops.
The Romney camp has been pushing out numerous stories to the media about the White House’s changing story on the nature of the attack on the U.S. consulate and about the security posture in light of previous attacks in the region.
“If the president thinks the tragic events in Libya were acts of terrorism, he should say so himself. Mitt Romney believes these tragic acts were terrorism and should be condemned as such,” Ryan Williams, Romney campaign spokesman, said Wednesday.
“You think he’d address the American people when something like this happens on the anniversary of 9/11,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on Fox’s Hannity on Wednesday, adding a reference to the Obama camp’s criticism of Romney’s statement the evening of 9/11 slamming the administration for sympathizing with the attackers. “It’s unbelievable. It kind of reminds me of what Barack Obama likes to talk about other people about shooting first and aiming later. I think he should take his own advice. You know, this is a serious situation over there.”
Perhaps no Romney surrogate has unloaded on the administration as much as former George H.W. Bush chief of staff John Sununu, who blasted President Obama as too “lazy and detached” to sit through presidential briefings — for which Ambassador Chris Stevens paid the ultimate price.
“This president thinks he’s so smart, he doesn’t have to go through that!” Sununu said Thursday of Obama’s record of missed presidential daily briefings. “He thinks he doesn’t need to put the extra work in for going through that process. That’s why I say he’s lazy and detached. And unfortunately, Ambassador Stevens suffered the consequences of us not providing adequate security there.”
Even as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) called for more answers into the deadly attack, he tried to downplay any notion that the move was campaign fodder.
“The Republicans are working overtime to try to exploit a very normal, run-of-the-course, administrative letter that we agreed to on a bipartisan basis in our committee, simply to get some additional questions put in front of the State Department that are part of their already existing investigation,” Kerry said on MSNBC today.
“This is not a challenge. It is nothing new. It is not something out of the ordinary,” he said. “And I agreed to do it as a matter of bipartisanship, because we thought these were important questions that people ought to be examining.”
Kerry has been playing fellow Massachusetts man Romney in Obama’s debate prep.
Other Democrats chided that any finger-pointing over the Benghazi attack should wait as long a thorough investigation takes, or until members return to Congress and their investigative panels after the election in the lame-duck session.
“This tragedy, this loss of an American ambassador and three others shouldn’t be made part of the partisan fight that is our presidential election and other elections around the country. And I think it is difficult at times, frankly regrettable that some candidates have tried to seek political gain in characterizing this one way or the other,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Tuesday.
“I really think what we should be focusing on is the important lessons we can learn from this, and sustaining America’s engagement in a critical part of the world, whereas you know, there are so many other places that demand and need our attention and engagement,” he added.
The Bengahzi developments follows the Republican jump on Obama’s comments that violent protests were “bumps in the road” on the Arab Spring’s path to democracy.