17 Oct 2012

‘Aggressive’ Obama fights back in US debate

US President Barack Obama launches fierce attacks on his Republican opponent for the White House, Mitt Romney, as the two men take part in the second televised campaign ahead of polling on 6 November.

NewsUS President Barack Obama and White House hopeful Mitt Romney during the second TV debate (Reuters)

After a lacklustre performance in the first debate, the US president fought hard to win back momentum for his campaign. In the defining moment of a testy debate, President Barack Obama lashed into Mitt Romney over the Republican’s criticism of his handling of a deadly attack on the US diplomatic mission in Libya and sought to cast him as unfit to become commander-in-chief.

Moving to regain lost ground after a weak performance in the first presidential debate, Obama fought back against his rival’s accusations that he had played down the 11 September assault by Islamist militants in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.

Romney, who dominated the candidates’ previous encounter, appeared stunned as Obama launched a finger-wagging counterattack over an issue that has become a flashpoint with just three weeks to go in a presidential race considered too close to call.

The exchange came near the end of a debate dominated mostly by arguments over the economy, jobs and taxes, considered voters’ main concerns in the 6 November election.

Political points

Romney and his aides have sought to use the Benghazi incident – as well as anti-American unrest in other parts of the Arab world – to dent Obama’s national security credentials and accuse him of pursuing a failed Middle East policy.

But Obama came out swinging in their second debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, accusing Romney of exploiting the Benghazi attack in an effort to score “offensive” political points.

“While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points, and that’s not how a commander-in-chief operates” Obama said, referring to the Republican’s initial criticism of the administration’s response before the full extent of the bloodshed was known.

Meanwhile, the debate’s moderator, Candy Crowley, faced criticism for appearing to side with the president when Mr Romney argued that Mr Obama had not been fast enough to call the Benghazi attack “terrorism”.

“He did, in fact, sir,” moderator Candy Crowley said, siding with Obama. “He did call it an act of terror.” A transcript of the Rose Garden appearance that day shows Obama said: “…no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”

But despite that comment, some of Obama’s top aides had initially attributed the Benghazi violence to protests over an anti-Islam film and said it was not premeditated, before finally acknowledging much later that it was a terrorist attack.

Was Romney right? President Obama’s speech in the White House rose garden