By Chris Hannas and Kate Woodsome – WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is taking responsibility for diplomatic security surrounding a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya last month, following Republican criticism of President Barack Obama’s handling of the events.
During a visit to Peru on Monday, Clinton said it is her job to be in charge of security for U.S. diplomatic staff around the world.
“Look, I take responsibility. I’m in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The President and the Vice President certainly wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals,” Clinton told CNN.
The top U.S. diplomat also said circumstances surrounding attacks like the one on September 11 that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans are not always clear at the time.
The attack, and the Obama administration’s response, have become an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has criticized Mr. Obama for not providing more security at the consulate in Benghazi.
Clinton said she did not want the attack to be part of a political “blame game.”
Bruce Miroff, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at Albany, said Clinton’s remarks are part of an attempt to “neutralize” Mr. Romney’s criticism.
“Romney has been arguing that the Obama administration has presented a weak position in the world. And that he would be a much stronger president in projecting American leadership,” Miroff said.
He added that the Republican contender has had difficulty selling that idea because President Obama has been able to tout his administration’s success in killing al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.
Until now, Miroff said, “Romney has been lacking for specifics on the idea that the Obama administration has presented a weak foreign policy.”
The Obama administration initially said the assault came after a protest against an anti-Islam film made in the United States, but now says it was a terrorist attack.
Clinton said there is an “intense effort” in the government to find the perpetrators.
“First, we will get to the bottom of what happened. Secondly, we will learn whatever lessons can be gleaned in order to protect our people. And third, we will track down whoever did this and hold them accountable, bring them to justice,” she told ABC News.
In a separate interview with FOX News, Clinton defended the Obama administration’s fight against terrorism, saying it has degraded the core of al-Qaida, although its affiliates still pose a threat.
“This Administration knows all too well that we face extremists, wannabe al-Qaida types, new groups popping up that want to do harm to their own people, to the United States and our friends and allies. And we are as vigilant as we possibly can be around the clock,” she said.
Republican Senator John McCain and two other senators from his party said in a statement late Monday that Clinton’s comments were a “laudable gesture,” but that responsibility for the security of U.S. diplomatic staff overseas ultimately lies with the president.
Vice President Biden said last week during a debate with Mr. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, that he and Mr. Obama did not know about requests for extra security at the consulate.
Testimony before a congressional committee earlier in the week showed the State Department had turned down several requests for more security at the site. A State Department official told lawmakers that the correct number of security officers were in Benghazi at the time of the attack.
Mr. Obama will have an opportunity to defend his administration’s actions in New York Tuesday evening during his second presidential debate against Mr. Romney.