BOCA RATON, Fla., (UPI) — Republican and Democratic senators debated U.S. foreign policy as a prelude to Monday’s third debate between President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney.
Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he found it “inconceivable” Obama didn’t know how dangerous Benghazi, Libya, was before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“The Benghazi, Libya, consulate was becoming a death trap,” he told “Fox News Sunday” in what the program called a preview of topics likely to be discussed in the third and final Obama-Romney debate.
Graham said the State Department “should have closed the consulate long before Sept. 11, or heavily reinforced it, and I put that on the president of the United States.”
Foreign Relations Committee member Dick Durbin, D-Ill., criticized Graham for “jumping to conclusions” and said many Republican lawmakers were trying “to politicize this tragic situation.”
Durbin, the Senate’s second-highest Democratic leader, said the CIA initially said the consulate attack “had something to do with” an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States — “but they were going to gather the evidence to be sure.”
The Sept. 15 account, quoted by The Washington Post, said: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
Durbin said “a comprehensive investigation” was under way that would look into the situation before, during and after the attack.
Graham predicted the mission attack would be “a case study, studied for years, of a breakdown of national security at every level.”
Durbin defended Obama’s national security record and said the president was “a strong and steady leader” on foreign policy.
“We have responsibly ended the war in Iraq, we are going to end the war in Afghanistan, … al-Qaida [is] a shadow of its former self — Osama bin Laden is moldering in some watery grave somewhere — and we’ve now put enough pressure on Iran with the sanctions regime so they won’t develop a nuclear weapon [and] they want to sit down and talk.”
The New York Times reported Saturday Washington and Tehran agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor denied the report.
The third Obama-Romney debate, beginning at 9 p.m. EDT at a 750-seat performing arts center at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was to be moderated by CBS News “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer.
Schieffer has outlined several topics — America’s role in the world, the continuing war in Afghanistan, managing the nuclear crisis with Iran and the resultant tensions with Israel, and how to deal with rise of China.
Schieffer has said most of the 90 minutes will be spent on the Arab uprisings, their aftermath and how the terrorist threat has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.