This is the fourth story of an 11-article series leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election that will break down the issues dominating political debates. Check back next Thursday for our segment on energy and the environment.
In the years following Sept. 11, 2001, national security has emerged to the forefront of political discussion. A society that has been dominated by wars abroad and threats at home, citizens and politicians alike have been passionate about military and defense spending.
Tuesday, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, along with three other embassy employees, were killed by armed men. The incident occurred following a protest by locals who were angry about a U.S. film that insulted the prophet Muhammad.
While the attack was initially described as a protest gone wrong, CNN reported that some suspect it was an attack planned by Islamic radicals.
The attack occurred 11 years to the day of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
The incident was met with backlash from many U.S. government officials, but the president made remarks Wednesday afternoon with secretary of state Hillary Clinton at his side.
“We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act,” Obama said. “And make no mistake, justice will be done.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made remarks on the subject as well, and they have been criticized by many for blaming the administration’s reaction to the news.
“I also believe the Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions,” Romney said. “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans, and to defend our values. The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn’t ‘cleared by Washington.’ That reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world.
“America will not tolerate attacks against our citizens and against our embassies. We will defend also our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion,” Romney said. “We have confidence in our cause in America. We respect our Constitution. We stand for the principles our Constitution protects.”
Obama accused Romney of having a “tendency to shoot first and aim later” in an interview with CBS News. He said that it’s important to gather all the facts before making any statements as president.
In their recent visits to Central Ohio, neither Obama or Romney talked about national security or defense. During a visit to Capital University last month, Obama focused on student loans, and during a visit to Powell, Ohio, last month, Romney focused on small business and the economy.
When Obama took office in 2009, the United States was in the middle of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since taking office, Obama has added, but eventually pulled many American troops out of Afghanistan.
In a 2009 speech to U.S. Marines, Obama said he would have all troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011, a feat that has not yet been accomplished.
The idea of pulling these troops out of the Middle East, and the thought of doing so prematurely, had many Republicans opposed to Obama’s proposed policies. They argued for a minimal amount to stay overseas in Iraq.
During the 2008 election, Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, a military prison in Cuba that holds prisoner-of-war detainees. However, the prison remains open, which Obama attributed to opposition from Congress.
In May 2011, known al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden was killed by members of U.S. Seal Team Six, a Navy special operations force. Republicans criticized the Obama administration for taking credit for the successful mission.
Mark Jacobson, an adviser to the Obama campaign on national security issues, said Obama has instituted “very aggressive counter terrorism programs around the world” during this time in office and has contributed to “re-establishing America’s leading role in the world.”
Jacobson is a senior adviser at the Truman Project and served as the director of International Affairs at the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
Jacobson said that since Obama took office, the nation has seen more action from NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and America’s most vital alliance.
“Republican and Democratic Congresses alike have for years been trying to get NATO to do more, and President Obama’s been able to do that,” he said.
Jacobson criticized Romney for his lack of experience with these issues, and said that he does not understand the complexities and dangers the U.S. faces, and would apply a “one-size-fits-all solution” to every problem.
“If you take a look at what Romney is offering up, it’s very scary,” Jacobson said.
According to his website, if Romney wins the election he will add ships to the declining naval fleet, as well as modernize Army, Marine and Air Force equipment. The task would be expensive, but Romney’s website said, “The cost of preparedness may sometimes be high, but the cost of unpreparedness is almost always higher – not just in tax dollars but in human life and in the survival of liberty and representative government.”
Romney’s website said that in office, he plans to reinvest “efficiencies throughout the Department of Defense budget” into the forces, a plan Jacobson said would “gut” agencies.
However, Niraj Antani, communications director for the OSU College Republicans, said this is no time to cut back on troops or military spending.
“Facing the threat in the Middle East, facing terrorism around the world, if you think now is the time to cut $50 billion out of our defense budget, it’s pretty ludicrous,” he said.
Antani said that we need to lower the nearly $16 trillion national debt, but cutting military spending isn’t the way to do it.
“I think in the long term that makes us less safe when you look as the president, he’s for these cuts, he’s standing by these cuts,” Antani said. “He thinks having (a) small Army is OK, having a small Navy is OK, and I do not and I think Gov. Romney understands that.”
The former Massachusetts governor has been criticized by opponents for being unfamiliar with national security issues and being inexperienced in international affairs.
Ally Marotti contributed to this article.