Republican Critics Say Obama May Have Learned His Lesson on Benghazi

On Iraq, the president earns faint praise from the GOP for protecting American lives.

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Iraq on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on June 13, 2014.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
June 20, 2014, 1:15 a.m.

Cri­ti­cism of Pres­id­ent Obama’s for­eign policy is roil­ing around the Cap­it­ol, as dev­ast­a­tion and ter­ror quickly creep through Ir­aq and House Re­pub­lic­ans pre­pare for yet an­oth­er in­vest­ig­a­tion of the 2012 at­tack that killed four Amer­ic­ans in Libya. But for all their highly charged rhet­or­ic aimed at the ad­min­is­tra­tion, Re­pub­lic­ans have one point of praise: Obama ap­pears to be build­ing on les­sons learned in Benghazi in work­ing to keep Amer­ic­ans in Ir­aq se­cure.

“What I see is a learn­ing from Benghazi,” Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham told Na­tion­al Journ­al this week, say­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is “ab­so­lutely” do­ing a bet­ter job pro­tect­ing Amer­ic­ans there than they did in Libya just two years ago.

Al­though Gra­ham said that the ad­min­is­tra­tion should have seen the is­sues in Ir­aq com­ing soon­er, he largely praised their re­sponse in try­ing to pro­tect Amer­ic­ans in the coun­try, call­ing it a dir­ect re­sponse to what happened in Benghazi.

“To the ex­tent that they’ve been try­ing to provide some se­cur­ity, you know, try­ing to talk to the re­gion­al play­ers about se­cur­ity is a smart thing to do.”¦ We have a se­cur­ity situ­ation that is really de­teri­or­at­ing by the hour,” Gra­ham said. “So I think they’re try­ing to con­sol­id­ate se­cur­ity and they’re send­ing in people to beef it up, I think they’re reach­ing out to some re­gion­al play­ers, in­clud­ing Ir­an, who have some in­flu­ence…. I think they have learned some les­sons.”

GOP Sen. Johnny Isak­son echoed that sen­ti­ment, though he was less ef­fus­ive than Gra­ham. “I think the de­ploy­ment of the 275 troops to help them is a good idea. We can’t have it one way on Benghazi and have it an­oth­er way on Bagh­dad. State De­part­ment em­ploy­ees are crit­ic­al to our coun­try and they de­serve to be pro­tec­ted,” he said.

Many oth­er Re­pub­lic­an crit­ics of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­ac­tion in Benghazi couched their opin­ions in lar­ger con­cerns about Obama’s for­eign policy and the situ­ation in Ir­aq in gen­er­al. But cri­ti­cism of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­ity to pro­tect Amer­ic­ans abroad has been re­mark­ably ab­sent from Cap­it­ol Hill this week, as mem­bers of the Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia have moved closer to Bagh­dad and the thou­sands of Amer­ic­ans at the em­bassy there, some of whom are be­ing evac­u­ated.

“Yeah, sure, I’m glad to do what we need to, im­prov­ing em­bassy se­cur­ity. But that doesn’t in any way ad­dress the prob­lem of what’s go­ing on,” Sen. John Mc­Cain said.

Rep. Adam Kin­zinger, an Air Force vet­er­an and mem­ber of the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, called the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse in Ir­aq “feck­less” over­all, but said that the les­sons of Benghazi did seem to be seep­ing in, in terms of pro­tect­ing the em­bassies.

“I think Benghazi’s ob­vi­ously an idea that you’ve got to keep your people safe,” he said. “Ir­aq is like the most pro­tec­ted com­pound we have…. I don’t have a lot of con­cerns about IS­IS over­run­ning our com­pound. But I think [beef­ing up se­cur­ity there] sends a mes­sage that we’re here to stay.”

Sen. Ron John­son, who serves on the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, and House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon said they too are hope­ful that the ad­min­is­tra­tion had learned its les­son. “They’ve sent 275 people there. And I’m hope­ful that’s enough,” McK­eon said.

“They’re cer­tainly say­ing the right things,” John­son said, sig­nal­ing his sup­port for ad­di­tion­al se­cur­ity in the coun­try. “Let’s hope they take the right ac­tions.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert signaled that the ad­min­is­tra­tion may be re­spond­ing ap­pro­pri­ately in this latest in­cid­ent, but that the is­sues at Benghazi will con­tin­ue to be a fo­cus for the party. Gohmert poin­ted to oft-quoted testi­mony former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton gave on wheth­er the Benghazi at­tacks were pre­ceded by a protest. “All I can hear is the former sec­ret­ary of State say­ing, ‘What dif­fer­ence [at this point] does it make?’ Maybe they’ve figured out that it does make a dif­fer­ence,” he said.

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