Lingering frustration over the way President Obama handled the attacks in Libya that led to death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans has colored the debate over whether to launch military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Republican lawmakers said in hearings this week that the two situations are linked because the September 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi weakened Mr. Obama’s credibility with the public, with the public still seeking answers about what went wrong and why people have not been held accountable for the security shortcomings there.
“These issues call into question the accountability of this administration, its commitment to the personnel on the ground, and the judgment that it uses when making these determinations,” Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan told Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in a contentious exchange at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday. “The American people deserve answers about Benghazi before we move forward with military involvement in Syria’s civil war.”
Mr. Duncan drove home his point by pointing to a photograph of Tyrone Woods, an ex-Navy SEAL and one of the four Americans killed in the attack, and said that his family deserves answers.
Congress needs more information “before we send another man or woman the caliber of Ty Woods into harm’s way, especially in another country’s civil war, especially when there’s no clear indication that there’s an imminent threat to the United States,” the South Carolina lawmaker said.
Mr. Duncan countered that he “absolutely” wanted to talk about Benghazi. “Four American lost their lives,” he said. “I have sympathy for the people in Syria. And I do think there should be a worldwide response. But we should act cautiously.”
Mr. Kerry assured Mr. Duncan the administration is “acting cautiously.” U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Glenn A. Doherty, another ex-Navy SEAL and Sean Smith, a Foreign Service officer also died in the Benghazi attack.
Last month, Mr. Kerry reinstated four employees implicated in security lapses from the Benghazi attack, drawing sharp rebukes from Republicans who said the moves mean nobody has been fired or held accountable.
At the House hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, suggested that the White House’s recent focus on Syria was an attempt to divert attention away from Benghazi, the problems with Obamacare and the IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Rep. Ronald DeSantis of Florida also questioned why the administration has not moved faster to avenge the death of a U.S. ambassador.
“The assassination of a diplomat breaches norms that were recognized probably far longer than norms against use of sarin gas, and yet the U.S. has not acted to avenge the death of the four Americans, including our ambassador, who were massacred in Benghazi,” Mr. DeSantis said. “And that lack of response, I think, using the same line of reasoning, certainly could embolden terror groups and Islamic malcontents that they can do this and that we may not respond forcefully.”