WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he suspects last week’s attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya were planned in advance and weren’t prompted by protests over an obscure anti-Muslim film produced in the U.S.
“Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to demonstrations. That was an act of terror,” McCain said during an appearance on “Face the Nation.”
“For anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact, I think, is really ignoring the facts,” he said.
McCain, who is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also disputed that the film was what sparked the demonstrations Tuesday in Libya and Egypt. Protests and violence have since broken out outside of U.S. embassies in more than a dozen other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
“Let’s point out, this wasn’t a video that caused this. It’s a fight, a struggle in the Arab world between the Islamists and the forces of moderation,” he said. “Look, one of our fundamentals [is] freedom of speech, and that’s what the Arab Spring was about. To bring about an end to the censorship by their government.”
McCain isn’t the only high-ranking Republican saying the recent violence in the Middle East isn’t about the film. During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) called it a “serious mistake” to reach that conclusion.
“The countries of the Middle East believe that there is a disengagement policy by the United States and that lack of leadership there — or at least clarity on what our position is — is causing problems,” Rogers said. “We are going to make, I think, diplomatic mistakes as we move forward if we think [the film] is the only reason people are showing up at our embassy and trying to conduct acts of violence.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney came under fire last week from people in both parties for the timing and tenor of his criticisms of President Barack Obama’s response to the protests, and the attacks that left four U.S. officials in Libya dead.
Romney wasted little time in criticizing a statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemning the anti-Muslim film. He also said it suggested by proxy that Obama was sympathizing with the attackers and apologizing for American values like freedom of speech, even though the statement was released before the protests began and the attacks took place.
Obama later said Romney’s criticisms had missed the mark, since he hadn’t been aware of all the facts when he made them. The president also said that with its statement, the embassy in Cairo was simply trying to prevent violent acts from taking place.
The embassy statement “came from people on the ground, who are potentially in danger,” Obama said in an interview with “60 Minutes.” “You know, my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.”
The president also dinged Romney for criticizing him immediately after the demonstrations began, saying it shows Romney’s “tendency to shoot first and aim later” with his political attacks.
McCain rose to Romney’s defense on Sunday.
“It was a semi-apology,” he said of the statement released by the embassy in Egypt. “We shouldn’t be apologizing for freedom of speech. We should be saying we demand freedom of speech for these people.”