WASHINGTON — Sensing a moment of political vulnerability on national security, Republicans pounced Friday on disclosures that President Barack Obama’s administration could have known early on that militants, not angry protesters, launched the attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya.
Within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants, officials told The Associated Press. But for days, the Obama administration blamed it on an out-of-control demonstration over an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, led Friday’s charge.
“Look around the world, turn on your TV,” Ryan said in an interview with WTAQ radio in the election battleground state of Wisconsin. “And what we see in front of us is the absolute unraveling of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.”
As a security matter, how the Obama administration immediately described the attack has little effect on broader counterterrorism strategies or on the hunt for those responsible for the incident, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. And Republicans have offered no explanation for why the president would want to conceal the nature of the attack.
But the issue has given Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney an opportunity to question Obama on foreign policy and national security, two areas that have received little attention in an election dominated by the U.S. economy. Obama’s signature national security accomplishment is the military’s killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Ryan was teeing up the issue for Monday’s debate.
“I’m excited we’re going to have a chance to talk about that on Monday,” Ryan said.
Obama, speaking Thursday on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” insisted that information was shared with the American people as it came in. The attack is under investigation, Obama said, and “the picture eventually gets filled in.”