The Obama administration's response to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is increasingly being compared by Republicans with Watergate, the 1972 break-in that eventually toppled President Nixon.
"The handling of this Benghazi incident now approaches the status of Watergate redux," said Reagan White House National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen. "The crucial difference is in Watergate, no one died."
Mr. Allen joins Sen. John McCain, President Obama's opponent in the 2008 election, in making the comparison and even the same "no one died" line. Mr. McCain told CBS' "Face the Nation" that the administration's efforts to shunt aside questions about security at the consulate amounted either to the worst incompetence or cover-up he'd ever seen.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wasn't ready to make the comparison with the Republican-masterminded break-in at Democratic Party offices at the Watergate complex in 1972, but said that given the political climate, the Libyan attack could have more immediate consequences.
"In 1972, the liberal [Democratic nominee George] McGovern was so clearly unacceptable that no scandal would affect the final outcome of the election," Mr. Gingrich said. "In this case, if you are an undecided voter, maybe one who voted for Obama in 2008, Benghazi could be the last straw."
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, died in the Sept. 11 assault on the consulate, and in the aftermath Mr. Obama and his team repeatedly said, falsely, that the attack grew spontaneously out of a demonstration against an anti-Islam video made by an American citizen.
The administration belatedly acknowledged it was an orchestrated act, but was then hit with documents released by Republican House investigators that showed the administration had rejected requests for better security in the months leading up to the attack.
Both the State Department and the FBI are conducting investigations, and the White House has declined to answer more questions, saying it will wait for those reviews to be finished.
Mr. Obama ignored a question about the situation that was shouted at him by an ABC reporter Wednesday night as he walked from his helicopter into the White House.
Calls for more information have spread, including to The Washington Post, where foreign-policy columnist David Ignatius called for the administration to release "a detailed, unclassified timeline of events" that would answer questions about the decisions the administration was making in real-time during the assault, which lasted for hours.
"It is clear to me that President Obama and his foreign-policy advisers displayed incompetence in the run-up to, during and after the Benghazi attack," said Matt Schlapp, White House political director under President George W. Bush.
"The president's secretary of state and national security adviser are both political operators — one a politician, the other a lobbyist. They have followed two strategies: to claim that answers cannot come without a lengthy investigation that won't be completed until after the presidential elections; and to try blaming anything other than their own failures, like the existence of a video offensive to Muslims," he said.
But some Republicans have warned against drawing early conclusions about the Obama administration.
"We don't have all of the pieces, and I think it's easy to try and jump to conclusions about what might have happened here. It's probably better to let the relevant bodies do their work," former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News.
Mitt Romney and his campaign strategists have apparently concluded that Benghazi wasn't going to be a winning issue for their man. So Mr. Romney passed up several opportunities in the foreign-policy debate with Mr. Obama to raise the administration's response to Benghazi.
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Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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